June 1, 2016
Chairman and Members of EAC on River Valley Projects, MoEF, New Delhi
Urgent: Concerns about Ken Betwa Project on EAC agenda for Environment Clearance for meeting on June 2-3, 2016
Respected Chairman and Members,
- No documents since Feb EAC meeting: In continuation of our earlier submissions of Aug 21, 2015, Oct 24, 2015, Feb 6, 2016 and April 15, 2016, we are writing to you again since the Ken Betwa Link is again on the EAC agenda for the meeting on June 2-3, 2016. It may be noted that after the project was earlier considered by the EAC latest in the meeting on Feb 8-9, 2016, no new documents are available on the EC website. This itself is a serious lacuna since this means that all concerned are in dark as to why the project is being reconsidered by the EAC, what progress has been achieved since the last meeting. This is also in violation of the orders of the Central Information Commission that required all such documents be available in public domain at least ten days in advance of the meeting.
- Issues raised in SANDRP submission of Feb 6, 2016 not addressed In our submission of Feb 6, 2016, we had pointed out, firstly, how inadequate the NWDA response dated Jan 5, 2016 were to our earlier submissions, and also how seriously problematic and flawed the NWDA contention was about doing Landscape Management Plan during construction of the project. There was neither any discussion in EAC or application of mind by the EAC as appears from the minutes of the Feb 2016 EAC, about our submission of Feb 6, 2016, adequacy of NWDA response of Jan 5, 2016 nor has there been any response from the NWDA in public domain.
- Landscape Management Plan not available, external expert view not taken The Minutes of the 91st meeting of EAC held on Feb 8-9, 2016 had noted, when this project was last considered by EAC, “The committee observed that the Landscape Management Plan (LMP) is being prepared by WII, Dehradun in absence of a plan, the committee cannot examine the proposal. EAC also mentioned, after completion of plan, obtaining a second opinion on the LMP from external expert the project will be reconsidered again for EC and also handed over 4 representations received from NGOs/ Environmentalists including that of former Secretary, Government of India Shri EAS Sarma to project proponent for compliance.” The LMP being prepared by WII is not available, nor has there been any independent expert evaluation fo the LMP, so considering the project without these will clearly be in violation of EAC’s own decision.
- PTR director’s rejection of proposal and SBWL over ruling PTR director without recording reasons The minutes of 91st EAC also noted: “The committee was informed by the project proponent that the project has been approved by the State Wildlife Board. The committee noted that the director of the Panna tiger reserve had not recommended the project, as per the agenda of the Board meeting and the board had over-ruled him and approved the project without recording detailed reasons for such rejection.” This situation is still unaddressed, so the clearance of the State Board of Wildlife is not even legally tenable.
- Committee of experts recommended by EAC not known to be formed, report not available in public domain The Minutes of the 91st EAC further noted: “Comments of HS Kingra Vice Chairman and member of the Committee are as follows: The matter related to the effect of the Ken-Betwa project on Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) and the breeding ground for vulture was discussed in the 91st meeting of the EAC. It was seen that submergence of 4141Hact of the PTR is a serious issue and need to be studied by some independent expert committee and the findings of such committee be placed before the MP State Wild Life Board (MPSWLB) and NBWL. The agenda related to the clearance by MPSWLB was perused and it was noted that in the agenda notes the then director PTR did not recommend in favour of submergence of huge area of PTR and loss of breeding habitat for the vultures. State Chief Wild Life Warden (SCWLW) Mr. Ravi Kumar IFS also agreed with the views of the then Director PTR and endorsed his views without any modification. How and what expertise the MPSWLB had over and above the technical advice rendered by Director PTR and SCWLW of MP is not clear from the minutes or agenda notes place before the MPSWLB. It is understood that as per convention and the extant Rules of Business of the State Government the SCWLW must be the chief technical advisor to the Government of MP on matters related to Wild Life. How the board overruled the advice of SCWLW is not properly recorded in the minutes of the Board meeting. It is therefore opined that an independent committee of three experts be constituted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change in consultation with the EAC to give specific recommendations related to submergence of PTR Core area and the habitat loss for breeding of vultures. It is then only that the project can be considered for Environment Clearance.” There is nothing in the public domain to show that this decision of the EAC in Feb 2016 has been implemented by MoEF&CC, nor is the report of such a committee, if formed, available in public domain. Considering the project without these would clearly be in violation of the EAC’s own decision.
- Flawed NBWL Standing Committee recommendation cannot be basis for EAC The 91st EAC meeting further concluded: “After detailed deliberations, the EAC accepted the views expressed by the Mr. H.S.Kingra, Vice-Chairman and member of the committee and considered the compliance report submitted by the project proponent and decided that the project will be considered for Environmental Clearance (EC) only after wildlife clearance of the project is obtained from NBWL in the manner proposed by Mr. Kingra. The project proponent may submit again the proposal for EC along with the decisions of NBWL.”
It may be added that the minutes (dated March 15, 2016) of the 37th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) of the NBWL held on Feb, 26 2016 had decided to set up a sub committee that will visit the project area and report back to NBWL-SC, and only after that NBWL-SC will take a decision. However, Media reported that the NBWL Standing Committee (SC) cleared the project on May 10, 2016. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/ken-betwa-prakash-javadekar-river-linking-project-wildlife-panna-tiger-reserve-gets-wildlife-go-ahead-before-site-visit-report-2796067/). The Media also reported that the NBWL-SC recommended wildlife clearance to the project without have the report of the sub committee. However, the minutes of the 38th meeting of NBWL SC held on May 10, 2016 or the site visit report of the sub committee of NBWL-SC are still not in public domain, either on MoEF’s website (http://envfor.nic.in/division/orders-and-releases), nor on Env Clearance website (http://environmentclearance.nic.in/onlineSearch.aspx) of MoEF. Nor is the letter from MoEF giving wildlife clearance to Ken Betwa project in public domain. The claimed wildlife clearance to the project by NBWL-SC in any case is not legally tenable since it violated the decision of the NBWL-WC in the previous meeting. The Central Empowered Committee of Supreme Court of India is bound to take this flawed decision to the Supreme Court and project could face further legal challenges. We hope EAC will not decide about EC for Ken Betwa on such a flawed and legally untenable and non transparent decision.
- EAC consistently misled by NWDA and EIA consultant of Ken Betwa – 1: Impact on Vulture habitat As our letter dated Feb 6, 2016 said, “The NWDA response dated 05.01.2016 says on page 3 that SBWL has approved the project on conditions, which include: “The study of mitigation impact on vulture habitat at project cost by BNHS”. This again is an admission that firstly, there is not even study of impact of the project on vulture habitat, nor the mitigation has been planned, these should have been part of the EIA-EMP and cannot be done post approval/ launching of construction.”
For example, the minutes of EAC dated Aug 24-25, 2015 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.”
As against this, the minutes of NBWL-SC meeting of Feb 26, 2016 that there will be “50% loss of existing unique habitat of highly endangered Vulture spp.” EAC needs to immediately take note of the lies that NWDA and AFCL has been telling the EAC on this issue and take immediate action against them, including suspending all consideration of the project till this issue is adequately addressed.
- EAC consistently misled by NWDA and EIA consultant of Ken Betwa – 2: Impact of KBLP on Panna Tiger Reserve The minutes of the 37th NWBL-SC meeting of Feb 26, 2016 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” says the NBWL SC minutes. 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? The EAC should immediately suspend consideration of the KBLP till such gross inconsistencies are addressed.
- EAC consistently misled by NWDA and EIA consultant of Ken Betwa – 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 that the minutes of the Feb 26, 2016 meeting of NBWL-SC has recorded concerns of Dr R Sukumar about the KBLP 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 any case, till this is satisfactorily addressed, the EAC cannot consider the project for EC.
For more details about the last three points, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/nwda-eia-lies-on-ken-betwa-river-link-nailed-by-igf-wl-will-eac-take-action-against-them-now/
- Suspend EAC’s flawed decision about Lower Orr Project: The EAC, in its meeting in May 2016 has recommended Environment Clearance to the Lower Orr Project in Madhya Pradesh, which is actually part of the full Ken Betwa Link Project. Lower Orr project becomes viable only if Phase I of the Ken Betwa link project is viable, since without transfer of water from Ken to Betwa, upper Betwa basin will have no water to spare for additional project. Since Phase I of the Ken Betwa project is yet to get all the clearances and also achieve implementation agreement between participating states (UP and MP), there is no guarantee of the viability of the Lower Orr Project in Upper Betwa basin. Hence EAC has recommended clearance to a project whose hydrological viability itself is uncertain. EAC should hence immediately suspend its decision about Lower Orr Project.
The EAC decision on Lower Orr Project is wrong on two additional counts. As the EAC minutes of May 2016 meeting clearly say, the EIA of the project did not include full command area of the Lower Orr project and that will be considered separately. This is completely against the basic tenet of considering all impacts of the project simultaneously and not in piecemeal manner as EAC has done. Secondly, the EAC should consider the full Ken Betwa Project with all its components in one go and not in piecemeal manner it is doing. On both counts EAC consideration is flawed and should be reviewed.
EAC also need to look at all the existing, cleared and proposed projects in Ken & Betwa basins by asking for cumulative impact assessment in both basins, rather than considering each project separately. For example, EAC agenda for June 2-3, 2016 meeting includes another project in Panna district.
- KBLP to facilitate EXPORT OF water from Bundelkhand? It is clear that in essence, the KBLP is facilitating transfer of water from Ken basin (Bundelkhand) to Upper Betwa Basin (outside Bundelkhand). Thus any claim that KBLP is going to help Bundelkhand is clearly flawed and misleading at the outset.
- Where is the Water for KBLP? As we have been raising this issue repeatedly in the past, the hydrological viability of the Ken Betwa project is far from established, the hydrological figures are not in public domain, NWDA water balance studies are out dated and not peer reviewed or in public domain, and EAC should not be taking any decision about the project in such a situation, till all NWDA water balance studies and hydrological data is in public domain and an independence review of them is possible. This hydrological non viability got further reinforced during the current drought when Ken was dried up several locations and Betwa was flowing, and there was proposal to take train loads of water from Betwa to Ken Basin.
We will look forward to EAC applying its mind to the various issues we have raised and NWDA responses, on their merits and arriving at a judgment. We would be happy to come to EAC meeting to explain this further if necessary.
- Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joanna Van Gruisen, Trustee, BAAVAN – Bagh Aap Aur Van, Panna, Madhya Pradesh, email@example.com
- Dr. Raghu Chundawat Conservation Biologist, Panna, Madhya Pradesh, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Shekar Dattatri, former member NBWL, email@example.com
- Prerna Bindra, Former Member, NBWL, Delhi: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. A.J.T Johnsingh,email@example.com
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Mumbai, Bittu@sanctuaryasia.com
Tarun Nair, Researchers for Wildlife Conservation, Bangalore, firstname.lastname@example.org