UP, MP sign deal on linking of two rivers; experts flag concerns
Bhopal: Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on Monday signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for starting work on country’s first major project interlinking two rain-fed rivers, Ken and Betwa, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even as environmental activists said the project would spell doom for the Panna tiger reserve which is known for its critically endangered white-rumped vultures besides a thriving big cat population.
The MoA was signed 18 years after the project was first conceived as a part of country’s ambitious programme to interlink rivers to provide water to areas facing scarcity. Officials said the delay was because of no agreement between the two states on sharing of water during the lean supply months, November to April.
The Uttar Pradesh government, which was initially demanding 930 million cubic meter (MCM) water during the Rabi (winter crop) season, settled for 750 MCM while Madhya Pradesh will receive 1,834 MCM water, said an officer of the MP water resources department.
According to the project report, 2,800 MCM of water will be diverted from the Ken basin to the water-deficit Betwa basin through a 73.8 meter high dam proposed on Ken at Daudhan in MP’s Chhattarpur district.
The report also said 6,017 hectares forest land of Panna Tiger Reserve and the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary would be submerged in the dam reservoir.
MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said people of nine Madhya Pradesh districts, Sagar, Chhatarpur, Vidisha, Shivpuri, Raisen, Damoh, Panna and Tikamgarh, and four districts of Uttra Pradesh, Mahoba, Jhansi, Lalitpur and Banda will benefit from the project.
“About 1 million hectares of land will get irrigated and 6.2 million people, mostly in water deficit Bundelkhand region, will get drinking water,” he added.
There is, however, opposition to the project from the Panna royal family and environmentalists. “It is very sad that the government and experts overlooked the possible impact of the project on diamond mining in Panna and wildlife in the area. We will lose our world famous diamond site for ever,” said Maharani Jiteshwari Judevi of Panna royal family.
Judevi said, “According to a report of 1938 on Diamond mines, the production of diamond took place naturally in Panna and it being excavated since 15th century. The seepage of water due to the dam will reduce the temperature and also reduce the level of nitrogen which is important for the natural production of diamond. I am raising this issue and I want a scientific study should be done to check the impact of dam water on diamond mine.”
Himanshu Thakkar, convenor of South Asia Network on Dams, River and People (SANDRP) said it was “very unfortunate” that the Central and state governments signed an MoA on World Water Day even though the project would proved to be a curse for water conservation.
“According to a report of the forest advisory committee, an estimated 4.6 million trees will be cut down for the project. This will lead to poor rainfall in an already parched Bundelkhand,” he added.
He said that the project will also destroy Panna Tiger Reserve, home to over 52 tigers and several species of endangered vultures, including the white-rumped vulture. Of the nine vulture species found in India, six can be seen in Panna, which has run a successful vulture population revival programme.
Several committees, including the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), have raised doubts about the project. A petition opposing the approval to the project is pending before the Supreme Court.
“We are sure the project won’t get forest clearance,” Thakkar said.
Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh feared the project would destroy local ecology. “The CMs of UP and MP will sign a pact today to link the Ken and Betwa rivers. This will all but destroy the Panna Tiger Reserve in MP, a success story in translocation and revival. I had suggested alternatives 10 years ago but alas,” he tweeted earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office said the project will “also pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country.”