On 22nd September 2015, The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh (and Chairman of the State’s Wildlife Board) cleared the Ken-Betwa River Linking project despite strong protests from some members of the Board. Now the proposal needs approval by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
Here’s a snapshot of what the project will entail: A 224 km long canal will siphon off 660 million cubic meters of water from the Ken to the Betwa; a 77 meter high dam will be built on the Ken, which will submerge 4000 hectares of Panna’s forests, obliterating some of its best habitat (10.7% of core area).
The Chief Minister has asserted that linking the two rivers is necessary in the drought-prone region, and assured the Board that all efforts would be taken to protect wildlife.
The Panna National Park, which was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1994, is home to an array of animal and plant life. Shockingly, the park’s tiger population was wiped out by systematic poaching in 2009. Since then, tigers have been reintroduced at great cost and effort from neighbouring parks, and Panna’s tiger population has begun to recover.
Scheduled to start in December 2015, the Ken-Betwa project is the first of a massive river-linking scheme proposed by the government, which plans to link 37 rivers across the country in the coming decades.
Independent experts, who have highlighted the questionable nature of this Rs. 11,500 crore project, aver that there is no ‘surplus’ water in the Ken River, as claimed by the authorities, and insist that this would merely be a case of water transfer from one deficit river basin to another.
They also allege that the project is based on a faulty EIA, which underestimates damage to wild lands and wildlife and overestimates supposed benefits to communities, while ignoring relevant and mandatory environmental parameters.