Even though the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has cleared India’s first river interlinking project – the Ken-Betwa interlinking project, which will result in the inundation of the core forest area of India’s premier Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, conservationists are not willing to give up without a fight.
The clearance was given to the Ken-Betwa interlinking project on September 20 at a meeting of the NBWL chaired by the Minister of Environment and Forests Anil Madhav Dave.
Tiger expert and former NBWL member Valmiki Thapar said: “The Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh is a national park. Denotification of national parks for an infrastructural project requires a green signal from the
Supreme Court and the matter will be placed before the highest bench in the land.”
The river linking project will see the submergence of over 6,000 hectares of core forest land located within the tiger reserve. It will also see the submergence of around 40 villages affecting thousands of people.
Projects that deal with tiger habitats must get clearance from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). With Anil Madhav Dave and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan putting their weight behind this Rs 10,000-crore project, a majority of NBWL members have gone along with this scheme.
Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharati had threatened she would go on a hunger strike if the interlinking of these two rivers was not cleared.
Wildlife experts, including Belinda Wright, a member of the Madhya Pradesh wildlife advisory board, said, “It is a sad day for the tiger reserve. All I can say is that the government always intended to clear the project and this is something which has been on their cards for years.”
Former forest secretary MK Ranjitsinh, who helped notify the Panna National Park and played a key role in reviving the presence of tigers there, expressed strong reservations about the project before the CM at the state wildlife board meeting that was held in Bhopal.
“The Ken-Betwa project will bisect the park through the middle thereby disemboweling it completely. At the same time, leading water experts have warned the state authorities that the interlinking project is not viable because the Ken river does not carry enough water that will irrigate the arid regions of MP and UP as is being claimed by the state government,” said Ranjitsinh.
The Madhya Pradesh government insists that the interconnection of these rivers will provide water in Bundelkhand and other districts of UP. Water experts have repeatedly warned against the interlinking of rivers as this has not worked anywhere in the world.
Said Valmiki Thapar, “Experts have warned against interlinking because each river has its own unique geography and evolutionary status.”