While five new tiger reserves have been proposed by the NDA Government, the ambitious Ken Betwa river interlinking scheme may spell doom for the existing Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
According to sources in Environment Ministry, the proposal for diversion of forest land for Ken-Betwa river-linking has been put up before the statutory appraisal panel of the Ministry. The project has a land requirement of 9,000 hectares, of which at least 5,258 hectares is forest land. Of this, 4,141 hectares are required from the 54,000-hectare Panna National Park. The sources said that the environment ministry has asked the Wildlife Institute of India to assess the impact.
The proposed project Ken Betwa project would, however, have to go through a series of clearances. Apart from the customary forest clearance and environmental clearance, the project will also require wildlife clearance from the National Board for the Wildlife (NBWl).
Further, it will need the permission of the Supreme Court since it involves diversion of land within a protected area of the tiger reserve. The sources pointed out that part of the proposed project also includes land under ‘scheduled area’, getting clearances for which can be difficult .Currently though, the water resources ministry has not initiated seeking any of these clearances. A former NBWl member feared that the impact of the Ken-Betwa project on Panna, and tigers can only be disastrous. The Ken river is home to the critically endangered, and endemic, gharial. It is also one of the few perennial rivers of Madhya Pradesh. In 2011, Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, had termed the project a “disastrous” idea.
Panna had shot into international limelight for its landmark tiger conservation/ recovery programmes. after losing all its tigers to poachers in 2009. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had vehemently opposed the Ken-Betwa River linking project.
The Environment Prakash Javadekar had recently informed the lok Sabha recently that the State Governments were advised to send proposals on Suhelwa (UP), Guru Ghasidas National Park (Chattissgarh), Mhadei Sanctuary (GOA), Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel/ Megamalai Wildlife Sactuaries/ Varushanadu Valley (Tamil Nadu) and Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary (Arunachal Pradesh).