The phase I of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project has received the approval of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), according to various media reports.
The Rs 9,393 crore project was given the approval at the meeting held on 23 August, chaired by Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave. The standing committee of NBWL comprises of two members of NBWL, representatives of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), state governments and user agency who was to visit the site visit and submit a report on the impact of project on habitat and wildlife of Panna Tiger Reserve.
The interlinking of the Ken and Betwa rivers in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is aimed at providing water to Bundelkhand, an area in Uttar Pradesh fighting continuous drought.
For the project - the first of the NDA government's ambitious mega river linking programme - the government will have to divert 5,258 hectares of forest. This will include 4,141 hectares of Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, a report in The Indian Express said.
A report in The Economic Times said as much as 105 sq km of tiger habitat will be lost.
Apart from the NBWL nod, the project now requires approvals from the Forest Advisory Committee and the Environment Ministry, said the ET report.
An IE report said in order to make good for the loss of the tiger habitat, "Nauradehi, Rani Durgavati and Ranipur wildlife sanctuaries will be integrated in Panna Tiger Reserve" and project-affected villagers will be rehabilitated.
According to the ET report, the Chhatarpur and South Panna Division will also be notified as a buffer of the protected reserve area.
The report, citing the minutes of the meeting, says that Uma Bharti's water resources ministry has agreed to all conditions to get the approval from the wildlife board.
As per the conditions, no more mining will be given in the tiger reserve area and power generation units will only be set up outside it.
Bharti had in June termed the delay in clearance to the Ken-Betwa river-linking project a "national crime and threatened to go on hunger strike if work on it gets prolonged".
Work on the project was expected to take off from December last year. However, it has been delayed for want of wildlife clearances.
"I consider causing delay to the project as national crime. I am not saying it's treason, but it indeed is a national crime. Because you are denying livelihood for 70 lakh people," Bharti had told reporters in New Delhi.
An Expert Appraisal Committee of the environment ministry had in October 2015 raised objections to the project saying it will impact the Panna Tiger Reserve "very significantly" and suggested a careful study of the project before granting approval.
A total of 10 villages consisting of 1,585 families are likely to be affected by this project. The project envisages construction of a dam across river Ken in Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh to irrigate 6.35 lakh hectare area of land, drinking water purposes and generation of 78 MW hydropower.
The project comprises two powerhouse of 2x30 MW and 3x6 MW each, two tunnels of 1.9 km long upper level, 1.1 km long tunnel lower level and a 221 km long Ken-Betwa link canal, proposed on the left bank of the river.
The project will provide irrigation facilities for 6,35,661 hectares of land in Panna, Chhattarpur, Tikamgarh districts in Madhya Pradesh, and Banda, Mahoba and Jhansi districts in Uttar Pradesh.
The project was first mooted in the early 1980s but was actively taken up by the NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was then challenged in the Supreme Court, which finally gave the nod in 2013.
The project was allotted Rs 100 crore in 2014-15 to expedite preparations of detailed project reports (DPRs).
Apart from the Ken-Betwa linking project, the other such projects in the works are the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga, involving Assam, West Bengal and Bihar; Par Tapi Narmada Link to transfer water from the water surplus regions of Western Ghats to the water deficit regions of Saurashtra and Kutch and Damanganga-Pinjal link, which will provide water for the Greater Mumbai.
With PTI inputs