What ails the Ken-Betwa River link project?

Source: The post is based on the article “What ails the Ken-Betwa River link project?” published in The Hindu on 25th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environment

Relevance: concerns associated with the Ken-Betwa Link Project.

News: The Steering Committee of the Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) held its third meeting recently. KBLP is an important project but it also has challenges associated with it.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

Read Here: What is the “Ken-Betwa Link Project”?

What are the concerns with the KBLP project?

The government’s plan is based on a ‘surplus and deficit’ model for the project and as per experts, this model has little scientific basis. They are also concerned that the project will endanger the water security of Panna.

Sections 29 and 35(6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 restrict human activities within ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘national parks’ without prior approval and the project aims at going against the provisions.

Further, diversion or stopping or enhancement of the flow of water into or outside wildlife sanctuaries/parks is prohibited unless it is deemed to be necessary.

The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court has also found that such diversion is not necessary to improve and better manage wildlife in the park.

Moreover, downstream of the national park lies the Ken Gharial Sanctuary which was created to protect the critically endangered Gangetic gharial. Therefore, the proposed dam may also have an impact on the flow of water of the sanctuary.

Further, the project is still to receive full forest clearance, environment approval from the National Green Tribunal. Still, it got Cabinet approval and was announced for implementation in the 2022-23 Union budget.

What are the legal problems with the project?

As per CEC, approval given by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) to the KBLP has not been proved to be necessary for the improvement and better management of the wildlife.

Further, as per the experts, an independent hydrological study of river Ken is necessary and no developmental project should destroy the ecology of the fragile ecosystems and an important tiger habitat in the country.

How will the Panna tiger reserve be affected by the KBLP?

Panna tiger reserve lost all of its tigers by 2009 and it took lots of efforts and almost a decade to reintroduce them back. Panna has deep gorges which will be drowned if a new dam is built.

Further, the government has sought to develop a larger Panna Tiger Landscape to provide an alternative option. But this may not be the solution as landscape should be created in any case.

Moreover, such landscape-level action is also required around most wildlife areas in light of a new global target to protect 30% of global terrestrial and marine areas by 2030, finalized at the COP15 of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference 2022.

What can be the way ahead?

As per experts, it will be more economical and faster if the governments restored Bundelkhand’s lakes and ponds rather than building dam. The region already receives adequate annual rainfall.

Hence, KBLP has both technical and legal issues and it can also intensify water conflicts between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

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