The Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) in a most path breaking, remarkable report to the Supreme Court on the Ken Betwa Link Project Phase I (KBLP-I), on Aug 30, 2019 has raised fundamental questions not only on the appropriateness of the Wildlife Clearance given to the project, but also the viability, optimality and desirability of the project. This a massive, fatal setback for the KBLP-I. We hope the government wakes up to the reality and shelves the project and immediately goes for more viable, quicker, cost effective and less damaging options for Bundelkhand. We also hope the CEC continues to look at the other projects and applications that come their way with the same vigour and forthrightness that they have shown in this report.
The Report The REPORT NO. 23 OF 2019 on KBLP-I was in the context of Interlocutory Application Nos. 26893 and 27160 of 2018 in Writ Petition (C) No.202 of 1995 filed by Shri Manoj Kumar Misra seeking order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court directing the CEC to hear the Application No. 1409 dated 23.2.2017, filed by Bittu Sehgal and Manoj Misra (and 1433 of 2017 filed by Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai) challenging clearance to the KBLP-I given by the Standing Committee of NBWL under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The H’ble Supreme Court had through an order on Aug 14, 2018, directed CEC to file its report in the application. After hearing all parties over six different sittings (on 25.9.2018, 11.10.2018, 13.11.2018, 3.12.2018, 9.4.2019 and 2.5.201) and visiting the project area (during March 27-30, 2019), the CEC has now submitted the report to the Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court is likely to consider it soon.
The Standing Committee of NBWL had recommended clearance to the project in its 39th meeting held on Aug 23, 2016. The project involves the diversion of 6017 ha of forest land, the destruction of wildlife habitat in the Criticat Tiger Habitat (CTH) of the Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve as well as the change in the flow of water and construction within the Ken Gharial Sanctuary which falls under the administrative control of Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR).
Questioning Water availability for the project The CEC report questions the assumptions of water availability for the project: “The catchment areas of River Ken and River Betwa on an average receive about 90 cm of rainfall only. This has a serious implication because during drought years the availability of water in both the river basins may be much less than what has been projected in the various studies. What is more the commitment of entire water available from River Ken, through KBLP Phase l to develop Ken Lower Basin and Upper Betwa basin in future is bound to deprive the farmers in Upper Ken Basin/ catchment area even to go in for minor irrigation projects. Therefore the projection of availability of surplus water in Ken Basin for transfer to Betwa Basin without first exhausting possibilities for development of irrigation facilities in Upper Ken basin appears to be premature particularly considering that an investment of Rs 28,000/- crores of public fund is involved.”
In fact, the CEC report shows how the lower Betwa projects were also ill designed which is now leading to pushing this questionable project: “lt is to be noted that deficit of 384 MCM[i] projected in DPR in Upper Betwa basin is a result of similar commitment of all available water of Betwa basin for development of lower Betwa basin command in the earlier irrigation projects of Betwa basin. This faulty planning in development of irrigation facilities in lower Betwa basin at the cost of Upper Betwa basin is proposed to be now rectified by substitution of water from Ken basin.” So the KBLP-I is thus an attempt to rectify the blunder in over designed Lower Betwa Projects.
Unresolved UP-MP water sharing dispute is self defeating KBLP-I objectives The CEC report goes on to say that UP is demanding more water from the project, which remain unsettled: “(a) The State of Uttar Pradesh in their response filed before the CEC has claimed 50% share
i) of 659 MCM of water to be transferred to Betwa basin, as per the inter-governmental agreement,and
ii) of the 402 MCM additional water yield assessed as per the NWDA study of 2010.
(b) ln this way the total additional share of water claimed by the Government of Uttar Pradesh is 530.5 (659/2 MCM + 402/2 MCM). Since as per the Detailed Project Report the quantity of water to be used at Upper Betwa basin on substitution basis is 384 MCM (DPR Vol. lll – Hydrology) and if the above claim of the State of Uttar Pradesh is to be admitted then in that case no water will be available for development of irrigation in Phase ll in the Upper Betwa region. This demand of Uttar Pradesh when read with the lesser availability of water as assessed in studies prior to 2010 (refer para 15 above) raises serious doubts with regard to the availability of surplus water in Ken basin for transfer to Betwa basin. ln such a scenario inclusion of the KBLP Phase I as a river linking project is self defeating.”
Claimed Benefits are not all additional The CEC report also shows that large proportion of the claimed benefits of the KBLP-I are not additional; they are already available without the project: “However when one analyses the projected figures of irrigation it will be seen that the existing area under irrigation using water from River Ken through Bariyarpur PUW[ii] in Uttar Pradesh is 2.14 lakh ha out of the 2.52 lakh ha proposed under KBL. The net increase in the area with the implementation of KBLP is therefore only 0.38 lakh ha in the State of UP. Similarly the State of M.P. is yet to fully utilize the share of water from the River Ken through Bariyarpur PUW though MP has a share of 398.22 MCM of water with a projected Command area of 68356 ha in the State.”
Moreover, the list of 182 irrigation projects in Ken Basin and 348 irrigation projects in Betwa basin along with irrigated area and water utilization provided in the CEC report annexures show that there is a huge scope for improvement irrigation efficiency in these schemes, without going for new massive project like KBLP-I, CEC report notes.
Alternatives to KBLP not examined The CEC report is very clear here: “The primary objective of the KBLP of providing irrigation facilities and alleviating poverty can be achieved through alternative method of water conservation/harvesting at local level and that too at much cheaper cost. For instance, providing more efficient system of irrigation such as drip irrigation and resorting to less water demanding crops like millets and horticultural crops (fruits and vegetables) rather than increasing the area under high water demanding crops like wheat, paddy and sugarcane will lead to a reduction in the demand for water for irrigation purposes and simultaneously water can be made available to larger area than what is envisaged under KBLP. To a query made by CEC on the scope of utilising more efficient technologies relating to irrigation such as employing micro irrigation system and suitable crop planning suited to the agro climatic conditions prevalent in the arid command area the NWDA while admitting that micro/drip irrigation saves water and fertilizers informed CEC that the micro/drip irrigation system is suitable for crops including grapes, banana, pomegranate, orange, citrus and mango. These crops are very rarely grown in practice in Bundelkhand region. Therefore this system may not be suitable for the area. This statement of NWDA only goes to confirm that the alternatives to mega Hydel Project have not been examined by the project proponents.” (Emphasis supplied.]
To substantiate this the CEC report mentions about Part III, Item 18 in the form for seeking wildlife clearance: “ltem No. 18. of this form provides for consideration of the options available for the project. Against this item the Field Director, Panna Tiger Reserve has stated that the NWDA has provided a single option and therefore it has not been possible for him to comment on this point. This observation of the Field Director only goes to confirm that the project authorities have not examined the alternatives available to meet the specific objectives of the project.” [Emphasis supplied.]
The CEC report goes on to add in this context: “The cost of irrigation at present works out to Rs. 27,30,400 lakhs / 6,06,980 ha. that is Rs. 4.4983/- lakhs per ha. However the cost per ha of irrigation by adopting by mini/micro water harvesting projects at local level will not only be substantially lower but will also save the forests and the habitat of wildlife including tiger.”
Emphasizing that better options exist, the CEC goes on to say: “The uncertain rainfall pattern and reduced flow of water should force the planners to encourage the farmers to revisit the tradition and opt for crops such as pulses and horticulture produce. Construction of check dams along the course of the rivers and other soil and water conservation measures can rejuvenate the aquifers. This approach is likely to improve agricultural productivity in a much larger area at lesser cost per unit area.”
KBLP-I Cost Benefit assessment is incomplete The CEC report categorically concludes: “The revenue foregone from power generation and the cost of establishing ropeway and animal passes are not accounted for in the cost benefit ratio. The cost of implementation of the Landscape Management Plan for Tiger, the species recovery programme for vultures and Ghariyal are yet to be worked out and hence are not included in the benefit cost analysis. The addition… when considered the Benefit Cost ratio may make the project economically unviable.”
Moreover, the CEC report adds: “The Sub Committee of Forest Advisory Committee in its Report has stated that the total number of trees of 20 cm and above which are required to be felled is around 23 lakhs. The Committee has observed that trees between 10-20 cm have not been enumerated and there is profuse crop of plants below 20 cm. These plants are around 8 to 10 years old. The completion of the project will take about 8 years. Since the above plants will not be felled immediately most of them will move to above 20 cm class during the currency of the project construction. The value of all such plants/trees that are ultimately going to be lost have not been considered.”
Wrong claims of NWDA The CEC report also nails the wrong claims and assumptions of NWDA: “ln the circumstances the assumption of the Standing Committee of NBWL that the reduction of dam height from 288 m to 278 m will affect the flow of water to the link canal from the reservoir is not factually correct. Reservoir with 9000 ha submergence is proposed to be built mainly to store water and not for the purpose of linking of the two rivers.”
Similarly, in the context of claim of NWDA that the project will benefit the tigers, the CEC concludes: “The assumption of the respondents that the project will have positive impact on tiger population because the receding water in the reservoir will result in vast extent of pasture land for the herbivores and adequate water will be available to the wildlife during summer months is flawed”.
The report goes on to explain why it is saying that: “the agricultural lands in the flood plains freed on relocation of the villages and which are located below 240 m will remain always submerged. The remaining portion of the reservoir area which will gradually get exposed as the water level recedes in post-monsoon season happens to be in steep slopes or gorges. On removal of the tree growth numbering more than 23 lakhs the top soil of these steep slopes will slide down and will get washed away as the waves continuously lash the banks of the reservoir. As a result no vegetation/grass is likely to grow on the exposed underlying rock. Photographs illustrative of the above are enclosed as ANNEXURE R-14 (Collectively) to this Report… the northern animal corridor below the proposed dam at Daudhan will be rendered useless during the construction phase which is going to last for a minimum of 9 years if not more and the second corridor at Gharighat will be under water for at least three months in a year”.
Corridor in PTR for East West movement of Tigers will be destroyed by KBLP-I The CEC report exposes this for the first time: “However, the availability of corridor in PTR for movement of animals from east to west and vice versa every year after the month of October will not be the same after the construction of Daudhan Dam because the dead storage level in the reservoir even at the peak of summer is proposed to be retained at a minimum of 240 m which is much higher than the present river level of 216 m at dam site. This has a serious implication because at 24O m dead storage level the portion of the river where the gradient is gentle will always remain under water. The DPR has projected that at 241 m total area under submergence will be 2550 ha. The River Ken from Ghairighat downwards flows through deep gorges and exposure of the gorge section of the river during summer months even after decrease in water level in the reservoir will not help animal movement across the river because of steep gorges. ln short the animals will not be in a position to use a major part of the River Ken for crossing from east to west or vice versa even during peak summer.”
Destruction of Ghariyal Sanctuary and Aquatic life in Ken River The CEC report says in this context: “During the monsoon flow of water with silt is essential for survival of the Ghariyal Sanctuary located downstream of proposed Daudhan Dam. The ecological flow of water from the dam will not be carrying any silt because the water which is being released downstream is only after sedimentation of the silt within the reservoir. The massive engineering structure of the dam is bound to isolate the upstream aquatic fauna of the Panna National Park and this may have direct impact on the breeding habits of aquatic life forms both upstream and downstream of the dam. The construction of the dam will result in the reservoir area transforming itself into a depositing substratum and which in turn will result in drastic conversion of aquatic habitat thereby changing the whole ecosystem within the Panna National Park as well as downstream of dam. This situation may lead to extinction of many aquatic forms of life.”
Moreover, the CEC should have possibly asked how much water is expected to be released DOWNSTREAM of Bariyarpur Weir, since that is where the Ghariyal Sanctuary is. As per the project documents in public do main so far, almost no water is allocated for releasing downstream of Bariyarpur PUW.
Why the mitigation measures wont work The CEC report explains why the mitigation measure proposed to integrate three other Wild Life Sanctuaries (WLS) with PTR won’t work: “All the three WLS proposed above for integration with PTR do not have secure corridor/ habitat connectivity with PTR. The information furnished to CEC indicates that the aerial distance from the boundary of PTR to Nauradehi WLS in MP is 108.2 km, to Rani Durgavati WLS in MP is 102.1 km and to Ranipur WLS in UP is 73.8 km. Further the proposed connectivity of PTR to all the three WLS mentioned above mostly pass through densely populated and cultivated areas and there is no corridor connectivity between PTR and any one of the three protected areas… The potential to develop into source population for tiger of any of the three Wildlife Sanctuaries proposed to be brought under the PTR Landscape has not been examined before approval of the proposal in this regard by SC, NBWL.” The CEC concludes: “The concept of developing a Landscape Plan is laudable but it is not a substitute for the loss of 10500 ha of wildlife habitat in PTR.”
Moreover, the CEC says categorically: “The mitigative measure suggested by NTCA and the Standing Committee of NBWL do not address the loss of the special and unique ecosystem of gorges, rocky cliffs and riverine flora and fauna on either banks of the River Ken. The wildlife including micro flora and fauna which have evolved in this ecosystem will, on commissioning of the project, perish forever. The SC NBWL has failed to appreciate the fact that more than 4400 ha of core of the Panna National Park will get submerged on execution of the project.”
CEC adds: “The critical point to be noted in this context is that only those conditions imposed by Site Inspection Team and NTCA and which are acceptable to MoWR are only to be followed for taking mitigation measures. The PTR is a National Park and has been notified for the protection and conservation of the entire ecosystem. The plants and animals which may not be part of the web of the life of tiger also need to be protected in a National Park. Therefore the mitigation measures required to be undertaken in the context of the KBLP are to be decided based on the long term requirements of the National Park and the Tiger Reserve… lt therefore poses a serious challenge to the very objective of the legislature in enacting the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 to provide protection to the wildlife and the ecosystem in which they co-exist.”
KBLP-I will destroy unique Eco System The CEC report is brilliant here: “The Panna National Park (PNP) was constituted principally considering the unique geomorphological speciality of the location like the gorges, caves, cliffs along Ken River and its tributaries and the riverine vegetation in the valley which provide much needed cover to different wild animals including tigers in shaded space of trees, shrubs and grasses and also to varied reptiles and birds. This part of PNP is the signature landmark of the Park and if the Daudhan Dam is commissioned this unique ecosystem of the Park which is the identity of PNP will be irrecoverably lost forever. Most of the important geological sites are going to be affected either by submergence upstream of the proposed dam or would dry up when the full flow of river is arrested by the proposed dam. No amount of mitigative measures can create this kind of unique ecosystem which has evolved over millions of years to reach the present level of biodiversity. The very purpose of the legislation to declare any area of such ecological and evolutionary significance as National Park will be totally defeated if the recommendation of SC NBWL is accepted in the present form.” And imagine that there is no mention of this in the whole Environment Impact Assessment or Cost Benefit Analysis of the KBLP-I.
Questioning NBWL-SC decision The CEC report criticizes the approval given by the Standing Committee of the NBWL: “There is a wide divergence in the observations made by the Committee constituted by the SC NBWL[iii] and the recommendations on mitigative measures ultimately made by the SC NBWL. ln fact the SC NBWL has not given due consideration to the critical observations of the Committee of SC NBWL while considering the proposal for wildlife clearance submitted by NWDA… SC NBWL while giving wildlife clearance to this project has not taken into account the decision of this Hon’ble court in lA No. 100 in WP (C) No. 33 of 1995 with lA No. 3452 wherein it is held that our approach should be eco centric and not anthropocentric and we must apply the “species best interest standard” as all species have equal rights to exist on earth”.
An important finding of the CEC report is: “Impact of the project on the downstream Gharial Sanctuary and the vulture nesting sites have not been examined by the SC NBWL and no mitigative measures in this regard are forth coming in the recommendation of the SC NBWL”. This also speaks a lot about the Environment Impact Assessment, the Environment Clearance Process including the conduct of the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MoEF and the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant Stage I forest clearance to the project [State II forest clearance has still not been issued since the conditions of the stage I forest clearance remains to be implemented.]
In the context of the petition challenging the Wildlife clearance to the project by SC of NBWL, the conclusion of the CEC report is unequivocal: “Approval of SC, NBWL for diversion of 6017 ha of wildlife habitat for implementation of the Ken-Betwa Link Project Phase I has not been proved to be necessary for improvement and better management of the wildlife therein as provided in Section 35 (6) of the Wildlife (Protection) Acl, 1972.”
This conclusion speaks for the success of the lawyers Ritwick Dutta and his team that fought the case on behalf of the petitioners. This order also sets a remarkable precedence and implies that SC of NBWL has no powers to decide about denotification of any protected area, unless it is the case of the proposal that it improves the state of the protected area.
Recommendations In the end, CEC report has recommended: “(a) Considering the precautionary principle detailed study on the impact of the proposed KBLP on the long term conservation interest of the Panna National Park and Panna Tiger Reserve is undertaken before the project is approved for implementation and which study shall examine and report whether the mitigative measures now proposed effectively offset the adverse impact of the KBLC project on the unique ecosystem of Panna National Park and Panna Tiger Reserve;
b) the alternatives to meet the objectives of the present project proposal i.e to meet the irrigational needs of the command area proposed under the project to alleviate poverty are examined through specialised agencies having expertise including in arid zone agriculture, soil and water conservation.”
The findings of the CEC, however, warranted stronger recommendations for the project, its EIA and hydrological assessment, for NBWL, NTCA and for MoEF and its environment and forest appraisal process. We hope that the official agencies do not use this as a route to justify the unjustifiable KBLP.
Compiled by SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
[i] MCM = Million Cubic Meters
[ii] PUW = Pick Up Weir; the Bariyarpur weir is existing weir on Ken River, that is likely to be replaced by another weir of higher capacity under KBLP-I.
[iii] The SC-NBWL had set up a committee comprising of Dr. R. Sukumar, Dr. H.S. Singh, a
representative each from NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority), Wll (Wildlife Institute of India), State Government (of Madhya Pradesh) and User Agency (NWDA – National Water Development Agency), which would conduct a site visit and submit its Report. This Committee submitted its Report in May, 2016.