The environment and forest ministry’s expert panel on river valley and hydroelectric projects has deferred environment clearance (EC) for the ambitious Rs.10,000 crore Ken-Betwa river linking project in its last meeting on June 2, and has sought more clarity on its wildlife and hydrological impact, sources privy to developments said. The controversy hit project intends to divert water from Ken river in Madhya Pradesh to Betwa river in Uttar Pradesh for irrigation and it will submerge 5,258 hectares of forest land including 4,141 ha of Panna Tiger Reserve.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In the meeting this Thursday, the project’s authority, National Water Development Agency (NWDA), explained the findings of an expert committee that had visited Panna Tiger Reserve, and measures they suggested to mitigate impact on wildlife. But, according to sources from NWDA, the meeting could not come to a conclusion as the members of the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric projects had several doubts regarding the project’s hydrological feasibility, its impact on hydrology and wildlife too. The EAC also deferred the clearance as the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is yet to give its final recommendations on reducing impact on wildlife.Earlier in February, the EAC had said that it will look at the project’s green clearance only after NBWL takes a call on its wildlife clearance. In order to study impact on wildlife, NBWL appointed an expert committee to inspect the Panna Tiger Reserve and submit a report to it. But on May 10, even before the expert committee could submit the report, it agreed to give in-principle wildlife clearance for the project after it “considered the importance of the project for meeting the irrigation need of Bundelkhand region” and after experts explained the project’s impact on wildlife from experts. Even while giving in-principle approval for the project, NBWL had said that wildlife and hydrology experts need to deliberate on it further before final recommendations can be issued.Sources privy to developments in the EAC said many serious issues related to the project are yet to resolved. “Wildlife is one component, aspect of the clearance process. Things have to be considered in totality and for that certain studies and we need to also study parallels all over the world where this has happened. These studies will require some time, so we are not in haste to decide on an issue which is environmentally so sensitive. In such big projects, loss of two, three months or even a year is inconsequential because it is a sensitive issue,” said another source in the know of developments.The inspection committee that comprised of HS Singh, wildlife expert Raman Sukumar and a member each from National Tiger Conservation Authority, Wildlife Institute of India, Madhya Pradesh government and NWDA found that the project dam is likely to affect crucial habitats of tigers, sloth bears and leopards. Thus, reducing the height of the Daudhan dam and compensating submergence of forest by adding more forest are two crucial recommendations made by the expert committee.According to members of the committee, its report has said that Panna Tiger Reserve has a unique geomorphological features such as gorges, rock caves and crevices that will be threatened due to the submergence. “Tigers, leopards, bears and jungle cats use gorges, rock crevices and caves as shelter and to give birth to litter. The water of Ken river flows close to these structures and thus these shelters remain cool in summer. Besides, the 221-km canal linking the two rivers will divide non-forest areas where foxes, jackals and leopards are found,” HS Singh told dna.Project likely to affect crucial habitats
The inspection committee that comprised of HS Singh, wildlife expert Raman Sukumar and a member each from National Tiger Conservation Authority, Wildlife Institute of India, Madhya Pradesh government and NWDA found that the project dam is likely to affect crucial habitats of tigers, sloth bears and leopards. Thus, reducing the height of the Daudhan dam and compensating submergence of forest by adding more forest are two crucial recommendations made by the expert committee. According to members of the committee, its report has said that Panna Tiger Reserve has a unique geomorphological features such as gorges, rock caves and crevices that will be threatened due to the submergence. “Tigers, leopards, bears and jungle cats use gorges, rock crevices and caves as shelter and to give birth to litter. The water of Ken river flows close to these structures and thus these shelters remain cool in summer. Besides, the 221-km canal linking the two rivers will divide non-forest areas where foxes, jackals and leopards are found,” HS Singh told dna.

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Ken-Betwa green clearance deferred, MoEF panel seeks more studies