The official minutes of the 37th meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) held on Feb 26, 2016, about the Ken Betwa Link Project (KBLP) Phase I have exposed the lies of project developer National Water Development Agency (NWDA) and its consultant for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) about a number of crucial aspects of the project impact on the Panna Tiger Reserve, Vulture Habitat and Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary.
It now becomes clear that both NWDA and EIA consultant AFCL (formerly Agriculture Finance Corporation Ltd) are guilty of misleading the MoEF’s (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change) Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects, when the KBPL was discussed by the EAC during Aug 24-25, 2015, Oct 26-27, 2015 and Feb 7-8, 2016. We hope the EAC will take appropriate action against the developer and the EIA consultant for misleading the statutory official agency.
The facts in NBWL SC meeting minutes also support the letters written by a number of individuals and groups, including SANDRP. SANDRP has written several times to the EAC on this project.
NBWL Minutes Extract from Minutes (dated March 15, 2016) of the 37th meeting of the NBWL Standing committee held on 26th Feb, 2016:
“37.5.4 Proposal for Wildlife Clearance in respect to Ken- Betwa Link Project- Phase I reg. Madhya Pradesh: IGF(WL) briefed the Standing Committee on the proposal. He mentioned that the proposal would link Ken and Betwa rivers. He stated that the proposal would result in direct loss of 58.03 sq km (10.07 %) of Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH) of Panna Tiger Reserve due to submergence, 50% loss of existing unique habitat of highly endangered Vulture spp., indirect loss of 105.23 sq km of CTH due to fragmentation and loss of connectivity, displacement of 10 villages etc. NTCA informed that the proposal is being examined under sec 38(O) (b) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972(amended) and it will take some time for finalizing the comments as the proposal involves alienation of large area of CTH. Chair permitted a presentation on the project by the project proponents. The representative of user agency, Special Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, made a power point presentation on Phase –I of the project, and its importance in the region of water deficit area of Bundelkhand region. He stated that project would ensure availability of water to draught prone areas in the both the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Further, he mentioned that the project would provide annual irrigation to about 6.0 lakh hectares of land and drinking water facility to 13.42 lakh people in both the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Dr.R.Sukumar, member expressed his concern on the impact of the project, in view of its huge submergence, habitat loss and impact on Ghariyal Sanctuary etc. After discussions, considering the impact of the project on habitat and wildlife of Panna Tiger Reserve, the Standing Committee decided that a Committee comprising of Dr.R.Sukumar, Dr. H S Singh, a representative each from NTCA, WII, State Government and User Agency would conduct a site visit and submit the report in a month for further consideration. This visit can be clubbed with the consideration of NTCA of the project in accordance with the mandate of NTCA in Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.”
Glaring blunders and lies accepted by EAC without questions In contrast, let us see what the minutes of the EAC says on these aspects. Minutes of EAC on RVP on Feb 8, 2016 says for agenda item 2.10, which is “Ken-Betwa interlinking Project in Districts Panna & Chatarpur, Madhya Pradesh by Water Resources Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh & M/s National Water Development Agency – for consideration of Environmental Clearance (EC).”: “Total submergence area is 9000 ha out of which 5258 ha is forest land (includes 4141 ha Panna Tiger Reserve).”
Earlier in the Minutes of the EAC held on Aug 24-25, 2015 says about the project impact on PTR: “Only about 41.4 sq km which is 7.5% of the Panna Tiger Reserve area (576 sq km) will be submerged in one corner of protected area however dam/reservoir will create new avenues for betterment of Wildlife.”
About impact on vulture habitat, the minutes noted: “There is no threat to Vulture population because only 3% habitat of vulture will be submerged and 97% of habitat will be more than 100 m above HFL.”
About impact of the project on Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary the minutes claimed: “Construction of dam will help Ken Ghariyal sanctuary situated in the downstream because of more ecological flow of water round the year from this dam.”
It is shocking that the EAC has accepted such glaringly erroneous facts and has reported them in the EAC minutes without questioning them, despite the fact that a number of submissions made to the EAC had pointed out the contrary facts.
The trouble is that EAC is used to not applying its mind to what is reported to it and this is yet another glaring evidence of this.
NWDA and AFCL misleads EAC and MoEF: NWDA Chief Engineer (Hq) R K Jain in his letter to EAC member secretary and director (MoEF) on Oct 14, 2015 said: “Keeping in view the corridor connectivity, availability of food and shelter, the project will provide the improved living conditions for the tigers… So far as the corridor and migratory path of wild animals is concerned, there is no negative impact. There will be no impact on migratory path of the birds… The revised EIA Report has indicated that the presence of sizeable population of vultures in the Panna Tiger Reserve is not going to be affected… There is no threat to vulture breeding habitat as explained in the EIA Report… The Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary lies on downstream side of proposed Daudhan dam site. There will be no negative impact on it.”
NWDA Chief Engineer (Hq) R K Jain in his letter to EAC member secretary and director (MoEF) on Jan 5, 2016 said: “The assumption that 163.26 sq km of PTR area out of 576 sq km will be lost is totally misconceived and not true. Total 5803 ha including 4141 ha forest area of 57600 ha (about 10% area of PTR) will only be submerged… There are only 3% population of vultures nesting site at 1-1 ½ km stretch of Sakaroghat in one side of Ken river. The nesting site which is more than 100 m above Highest Flood Level will remain available for nesting. This 3% area of nesting site submerged will be reclaimed in November after receding water in the reservoir. Further the Wild Life Board, Government of Madhya Pradesh has recommended study of mitigation impact in vulture habitat at project cost by Bombay Natural History Society which will be part of Landscape Management Plan. So, it is incorrect that vultures nesting sites will be lost. Moreover, vulture population will be benefitted due to availability of plenty of pasture land, increased prey base population and availability of food after killing carnivores.”
It’s clear from the above that NWDA and AFCL has been reporting totally wrong facts to the EAC, without even bothering to do basic assessment or applying its mind.
The EAC on its part, also accepted these glaringly wrong statements and facts without raising any questions. Will EAC take action now against NWDA and AFCL?
FACTS VS FICTION: 1. Impact of KBLP on Panna Tiger Reserve
The NWBL minutes quoted above makes it clear that KBLP will submerge 5803 ha of PTR, against 4141 Ha that the EIA and NWDA submissions to EAC mention. This is massive 30% under reporting of submergence area of PTR by NWDA and AFCL.
Moreover, 10523 ha of Core Tiger Reserve area will be lost due to “fragmentation and loss of connectivity, displacement of 10 villages etc”. The EIA does not even mention this impact. When this was repeatedly mentioned in various submissions to EAC, each time NWDA just denied it, without bothering to do any assessment. Now that an official agency has reiterated this in no uncertain terms, what will the EAC, NWDA and AFCL do? Will MoEF take action against any of them?
FACTS VS FICTION: 2. Impact of KBLP on Vulture Habitat
The NBWL minutes quoted above says that there will be “50% loss of existing unique habitat of highly endangered Vulture spp.” The EIA does not even mention this impact. When this was repeatedly raised by various submissions before EAC, NWDA responded that only 3% habitat of vultures will be lost! This is another strong reason why EAC and MoEF needs to take stern action against NWDA and EIA consultants.
FACTS VS FICTION: 3. Impact of KBLP on Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary
A number of people, including Prof Brij Gopal and SANDRP had written to EAC showing of KBLP will impact the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary as one of the barrages of KBLP is to be constructed inside the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary, as mentioned in the latest Detailed Project Report of KBLP. But there was no response form NWDA, AFCL or EAC, except NWDA repeatedly claiming that Ken Ghariyal sanctuary will benefit from KBLP! It is good now to see Dr R Sukumar raising concerns about the KHLP impact on Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary and hope now such impacts will be properly assessed. In the meantime, this is another issue on which EAC and MoEF needs to take the developer and EIA consultants to task.
In Conclusion In reality, will there be any action by EAC and MoEF against NWDA and AFCL?
If past is any guide, there may not be much hope of action. However, let us still hope these words from official agencies will lead to a new precedent.
It should be added here that this is not a simplistic, binary issue of ecology vs development as some reports say, but about right decision making process if we are to achieve any development.
As far as developmental claims of KBLP are concerned, they are equally fictional and the disaster impacted Bundelkhand and upper Betwa basin have much better options, if only we had more democratic, transparent and accountable decision making processes.
In case of KBLP the project developer has refused to make even the hydrology figures public, leave aside doing any options assessment. But that, as they say, is another story.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org), SANDRP