Ken-Betwa interlinking dam to wait longer
The clearance for the Lower Orr Dam, which is a part of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, has been delayed by an expert panel that was set up in the Indian Ministry of Environment. New data is being sought by the ministry to decide whether there will be a new public hearing or not.
The assessed cost of the project is about Rs 30.65 billion and requires around 3,750 hectares of land. The dam was to be built across the Orr river near Didauni, a village in Madhya Pradesh.
The project would have provided an irrigation facility to 90,000 hectares of area, but is expected to submerge about 2,723 hectares of land, including seven fully affected villages and five villages partially.
Previously, the project sought clearance from the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for hydroelectric ventures and for the river valley. The project had also received environmental clearance from the EAC in 2016. But since the project encompassed 968.24 hectares of forest land, the Ministry of Environment was asked to get the necessary authorisation from the National Water Development Agency and the Madhya Pradesh government.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the MoEFC gave the clearance in February 2019. But the rules governing green clearance of the project dictated that if the proponents of the project were not submitted within the prescribed time of 18 months, the project would be referred to the EAC for reconsideration.
The rules also stated that EAC might collect fresh data and use it to prepare the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) if the project is more than three years old. Since the forest clearance was received almost after 31 months, the EAC ruled that they need to look at the new primary data. Considering all the facts and the regulatory provisions, EAC decided to defer the project.
Fresh baseline data was to be collected for all the environmental attributes. The ecological effects will then be contemplated using those data as a benchmark, the EAC recommended.
Since the inception of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, it has been somewhat contentious. The viability of this project has been questioned by wildlife conservationists, experts, activists, and even by the Supreme Court.
Last year, the Supreme Court had questioned the monetary feasibility of this project and also scrutinised the basis on which the wildlife clearance was provided.
As the undertaking of this project would prompt the submergence of the chief forest area, which is home to many endangered species like the vulture and the tiger, it had also faced stiff opposition from the activists and the conservationists.
Ajay Dubey, Madhya Pradesh based wildlife activist, criticised the project stating that there was no need to build the massive project on top of dense forest areas as it would endanger the wildlife. He added that the government could opt for smaller water irrigation projects rather than building huge dams.
Meanwhile, the EAC has sought details about national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and other eco-sensitive areas which could be used to protect the endangered species. As stated in the minutes of the meeting, the EAC is working out the kinks of the conservation plan for the Schedule-I species. The plan would then be submitted for approval.
The interlinking of rivers project has been an ambitious plan for the government for more than a decade and a half.
Source: The Wire