It seems the Chief Ministers of all the flood affected states are obsessed about dredging the rivers and reservoirs and are advocating massive scale dredging as a solution to flooding. This is partly triggered by the Rivers-as-waterways advocacy by Union Surface Transport Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari and partly by the need for showing to the people that they are doing something new to tackle floods, it seems. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar contributed to it in a way last year when he mentioned the accumulation of millions of tons of silt along Ganga due to the backwater impact of Farakka Dam. This year, the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal[i] has been talking about dredging Brahmaputra as a solution to floods in Assam.
The public hearings required for the Ken Betwa River linking project (KBRLP) are to be held on Dec 23 and 27, 2014 at Silon in Chhattarpur and Hinouta in Panna districts of Madhya Pradesh. However, these public hearings violate fundamental legal norms in letter and spirit and should be cancelled and not held till these violations are rectified.
Firstly, the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) notification of September 2006 clearly states that project EIA and EMP (Environment Management Plan) should be put up on the website of the Pollution Control Board a month before the actual public hearing. However, a perusal of the MPPCB website (http://www.mppcb.nic.in/) shows that the full EIA and EMP are still not uploaded on the website. When I talked with the concerned officers of the MPPCB, they confirmed that full EIA-EMP reports have NOT been uploaded on the MPPCB website.
Secondly, even the executive summary of EIA-EMP Report on the website is put up in such an obscure fashion that it is not possible for any common person to locate it. So I called up the phone number given on the MPPCB website: 0755-2464428. I was then told that I should call 0755 2466735 to talk to Mr Kuswaha about this. When I called Mr Kuswaha, he directed me to call Mr Manoj Kumar (09300770803). Mr. Manoj Kumar told me at 5.15 pm on Thursday, Dec 18 that he was already home and that I should call him at 12 noon next day. He however, confessed that even the executive summaries were not there about 15 days ago! When I called Mr Manoj Kumar next day and succeeded in connecting only after a few attempts, he told me that I need to first click on “Public Hearing” tab (Under EIA notification). On clicking this, one goes to a page with a table displaying various lists entitled List 1, List II, List III and List IV etc. Then one needs to click List IV. On clicking that one will see a list of projects from 469 to 601 and in that you go to project no 594 which is the Ken Betwa Project. There is no mention of the date of Public Hearing here.
I also called up Dr R K Jain (09425452150) at MPPCB regional office in Sagar, under whose jurisdiction Chhattarpur and Panna come to ask about the availability of the full EIA and EMP in soft copies. He said they are available at designated places, but about not being available on MPPCB website and available executive summaries not being properly displayed on MPPCB websites, he said that he is unable to do anything as that is happening from Bhopal.
When I told him that it is impossible for anyone visiting the MPPCB site to find this project and that the current public hearings need to be displayed more prominently, he hung up the phone, saying he has no time to answer such questions! In any case non-display of the public hearing date and executive summary in Hindi and English in easily searchable form is another violation of the EIA notification.
Thirdly, when we go through the Executive summaries in English and Hindi, we see that both are incomplete in many fundamental ways. The Hindi executive summary has completely wrong translations. I could find nine gross translation errors in just first 16 paragraphs. The Hindi translation has not bothered to translation words like monsoon, MCM, PH, LBC, CCA, FRL, MWL, K-B, tunnel in first 16 paras, nor given their full forms. This makes the Hindi translation completely incomplete, wrong and unacceptable.
Fourthly, even the English (& Hindi) version of Executive summary on MPPCB website is incomplete. It does not have a project layout map, sections like options assessment and downstream impacts.
Fifthly, the EIA claims in very second paragraph: “The scope of EIA studies inter-alia does not include water balance studies.” This is a wrong claim since water balance study of the Ken Betwa links establishes the hydrological viability of the project and by not going into the water balance study, the EIA has failed to establish hydrological viability of the project. SANDRP analysis in 2005 of the NWDA feasibility study of Ken Betwa Proposal had established that the hydrological balance study in the Feasibility of the Ken Betwa Link Project is flawed and an exercise in manipulation to show that Ken has surplus water and Betwa is deficit. As the collector of Panna district noted in 2005 itself, if the 19633 sq km catchment of the Ken river upstream of the proposed Daudhan dam (comprising areas of eight districts: Panna, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Satna, Narsinghpur, Katni, and Raisen) were to use the local water options optimally, then there will not be any surplus seen in Ken river at the Daudhan dam site and by going ahead with the Ken Betwa Link without exhausting the water use potential of Ken catchment, which is predominantly a tribal area, the government is planning to keep this area permanently backward. But the EIA of Ken Betwa link does not even go into this issue, making the whole exercise incomplete.
Sixthly, the Ken Betwa Link project is a joint project between Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP), about half of the benefits and downstream impacts in Ken and Betwa basins are to be faced by Uttar Pradesh, but the public hearings are not being conducted in UP at all, the proposed public hearing is only in MP! Even within MP, the link canals will pass through and thus affect people in Tikamgarh district, but the public hearing is not being held in Tikamgarh district either.
Seventhly, the project had applied for the legally required Terms of Reference Clearance (TORC) and the same was discussed in the meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on Dec 20, 2010. However the public hearing is being held more than four years after EAC recommended the TORC and that is way beyond the normal term of two years for which TORC is valid and even for extended term of TORC of four years. The public hearing being conducted without valid TORC can clearly not be considered valid under EIA notification and hence there is no legal validity of this public hearing.
Eighthly, the EIA done by the Agriculture Finance Corporation of India was already completed when the project applied for TORC! I know this for a fact since copies of their (most shoddy) EIA were made available to the members of the Expert Committee on Inter Linking of Rivers set up by the Union Ministry of Water Resources in Nov 2009 itself. I having been a member of the committee had critiqued the shoddy EIA in April 2010 and this was also discussed in one of the meetings where the AFC EIA consultants were called and had no answer to the questions. The same base line data that is now more than five years old is being used in the EIA being used for this public hearing! This is again in complete violation of the EIA norms.
Ninthly, in a strange development, MoEF&CC issued TORC for the project on Sept 15, 2014, following a letter from National Water Development Agency dated 18.06.2014. This letter is clearly issued in violation of the EIA notification, since as per the EIA notification, the ministry could have either issued the TORC within 60 days of Dec 20, 2010 meeting of the EAC or the TORC would be deemed to have been given on 61st day or Feb 19, 2011. However, issuing the letter almost four years after the EAC meeting and that too without mentioning the deemed clearance is clearly in violation of the EIA notification.
The TORC letter on MoEF&CC website is also incomplete as it does not mention the Terms of Reference at all! They are supposedly in the Annexure 1 mentioned in the TORC, but the letter on MoEF&CC site does not include Annexure 1. When I asked Dr B B Barman, Director of MoEF&CC and who has signed the TORC letter, he said that the project has been given standard TORs for any River Valley Project. But Dr Barman forgot that the MoEF&CC was giving the TORC for the first ever interlinking of rivers project and the TOR for this unprecedented project CANNOT be same as any other River Valley Project. The TORC letter is invalid also from this aspect.
The MoEF&CC letter of Sept 15, 2014 is also without mandate for another reason. The letter says “Based on the recommendations of the EAC, the Ministry of Environment & Forests hereby accords clearance for pre-construction activities at the proposed site as per the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 and its subsequent amendment, 2009”. However, MoEF&CC seems to have forgotten here that the Daudhan dam site and most of the reservoir is inside the Panna Tiger reserve. Perusal of the 45th EAC meeting held on Dec 20-21, 2010 shows that EAC did not recommend preconstruction activity and the EIA division of the MoEF&CC that issued the Sept 15 2014 has no authority to allow pre construction activities inside the protected areas like Panna Tiger Reserve. Even the NBWL (National Board of Wild Life) Standing Committee meeting of Sept 14, 2006 allowed only survey and investigation and NOT preconstruction activity and in any case such activities inside protected areas cannot be allowed without Supreme Court clearance. It is thus clear that Sept 15, 2014 letter of MoEF&CC for Ken Betwa link is also without authority.
There is a third reason why the MoEF&CC letter of Sept 15, 2014 is legally invalid: the letter giving Terms of Reference clearance did not include the conditions EAC stipulated when it recommended the TORC in the EAC meeting of Dec 20, 2010. One of the conditions was that a downstream study will be done by Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute. This becomes particularly important since there is a Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary which will be affected, as also the Raneh falls, both are also tourist attractions.
However, the EIA of the Ken Betwa links has no downstream impact assessment, no mention of Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary or Raneh falls. The EIA also does not contain the CIFRI study that EAC had asked for. This is yet another reason why this incomplete and inadequate EIA cannot be basis for the public hearing from Ken Betwa Project.
This article is not a critique of the EIA of the Ken Betwa Link, I hope to write a separate article for that. Here we only see how illegal is the Public hearing for Ken Betwa link to be held during Dec 23 and 27, 2014 in Chhatarput and Panna districts. The Ken Betwa link project itself is unviable and unjustified and should not be taken up at all. But that will need another article.
It seems the current Union Government under Mr Narendra Modi and Water Resources Ministry under Sushri Uma Bharti are trying to push ahead with their River Link agenda, putting aside even legal stipulations. They also do not seem to be bothered that the Ken Betwa link will only have adverse impact on Ganga and this will also affect the Ganga Rejuvenation that they say is their priority. The EIA does not say a word on this count.
We hope the proposed public hearing will be cancelled. In any case, any clearance given to the project based on such a public hearing will remain open to challenge.
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (email@example.com)
 https://sandrp.in/riverlinking/Why_Ken_Betwa%20_EIA_is_unacceptable_April_2010.pdf, also see AFC ltd website mentioning that they got the work for doing EIA for Ken Betwa project in 2009 itself: http://afcindia.org.in/ecology_impact2.html