A favourable report tabled at the Environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting Tuesday has cleared the way for forest clearance for the government’s flagship Ken-Betwa river-linking project.
The project has already received wildlife and environmental clearances.
On March 30, the FAC had recommended that “if there is no other option and the present proposal is the best possible option available”, the height of the project dam “may be reduced by 10 meters if not at least 5 meters as a trade-off between conservation and development.”
Subsequently, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti wrote to Environment Minister Anil Dave, strongly objecting to any reduction in the height of the dam. Accordingly, at its April 25 meeting, the FAC set up an eight-member panel — four each from Environment and Water Resources ministries — to “look into all unresolved issues”.
In its report tabled at yesterday’s FAC meeting, the committee “agreed to recommend no change in the height of the dam” since “any reduction. would make the whole project technically unfeasible”.
Sources said there is no unanimity among the FAC members on the 8-member committee’s recommendation on the dam height.
“We had a long discussion. Issues such as dam height and hydrology are highly technical and perhaps beyond the scope of the FAC. Once the minutes are finalised, the minister will take a call,” a top Environment ministry official present at the meeting told The Indian Express.
Apart from ex-officio members from the ministry, the FAC has three non-official expert members.
In March, days before a FAC sub-committee submitted a report on the Ken-Betwa project’s potential impact on the Panna tiger reserve, ecologist Deepak Apte of Bombay Natural History Society had quit the FAC. Of the two other expert members, Dr Rajesh Kaushal from Dehradun’s Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation could not attend yesterday’s meeting for personal reasons.
Even if the project gets forest clearance, there is still scope for review. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court is examining the project for adequacy of mitigative measures against its adverse impact on the Panna tiger reserve. The CEC has already asked the ministry to submit all relevant documents for scrutiny.
The Detailed Project Report of the Ken-Betwa link “for the purpose of irrigation and generation of power” was prepared in 2008. The project involves diversion of 4,141 hectares of the Panna tiger reserve and felling of 18 lakh trees.
The FAC, however, recommended that no tree should be felled in the upper 10-metre of the Full Reservoir Level. It also said that in addition to 2000 hectare of revenue land identified on the eastern side of the tiger reserve for compensatory afforestation, the user agency should identify another 2000 hectare in the immediate vicinity of the tiger reserve to offset the loss of its core area.
The ministry, however, is yet to implement a set of key recommendations made by the FAC to ascertain the project’s viability. Among these are a fresh benefit-cost analyses taking into consideration the economic loss due to diversion of unique riverine eco-system, fresh enumeration to assess the number mature trees to be felled etc.