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Ken-Betwa interlinking project "not implementable", would "destroy" Madhya Pradesh tiger reserve: Expert

By Our Representative
One of India's topmost conservationists and wildlife experts, Dr MK Ranjitsinh, has said that Phase 1 of the Rs 10,000-crore Ken-Betwa link project – which includes a 230-km canal and a series of barrages and dams linking the rivers – would mean end of the Panna Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh.
Cleared by the National Board for Wildlife, the project is proposes to irrigate more than six lakh hectare (ha) of land in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, but the Daudhan Dam to be built to divert the water of Ken river would submerge a portion of the tiger reserve.
Dr Ranjitsinh's view acquires significance, as he is known to be a principal author of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Belonging to the erstwhile royal family of Wankaner, Saurashtra, Gujarat, he has been a Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer, who dominated the state's forest policies for over two decades.
In an interview to a top site, Dr Ranjitsinh says, the project, floated in 2004 by the AB Vajpayee government, would “bifurcate” and “disembowel” the centre of the park, with the inundation affecting “the connectivity and movement of all animals, including the prey.”
Pointing out that it would “also adversely affect the quality of habitat”, Dr Ranjitsinh says, “The area being submerged is low-lying and being close to the river, it has moisture and supports the growth of grass. As a result there is plenty of food available for herbivores. These include cheetal, neelgai, wild boar and the four–horned antelope.”

Dr MK Ranjitsinh
Pointing out that “the cheetal provide the principle food species for the tiger. I do not see the gene pool getting affected”, Dr Ranjitsinh says, he "expostulated" all these details at both the state wildlife board meetings held under the chairmanship of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
During the meetings, he says, he also pointed out that the Environment Impact Assessment report for the project does talk about areas under submergence, but “without talking about the canals emanating from the proposed dam or about the colonies of workers that will have to be constructed to build the dam or even of the noise factor that will adversely impact animals.”
“I had told Chouhan that he is wearing two hats, one as chief minister and the other as chairperson of the state wildlife board, which is an advisory body. Let people have a free say. Most of the members on the board are government servants who will not open their mouths”, says Dr Ranjitsinh.
“I told the chief minister, make up your mind – project or park (Panna Tiger Reserve) – you cannot have both”, he says, adding, “My fear is that the chief minister will be left with neither the project nor the park.”
He underlines, “Several water experts have warned against the interlinking of the rivers. They point out that the Ken river itself does not have enough water and the project will prove to be a disaster, thereby worsening the water situation in our country. I am not against projects but projects cannot succeed if there is not enough water.”
Pointing out that the projec is just “an old game being played out by the irrigation department”, Dr Ranjitsinh says, “When I was chairman of the Narmada Valley Development Authority, I told the irrigation experts to put all the cards on the table."
Taking objection to the Narmada dam, he had asked then, he says, "How much will the cost be, how much electricity will it generate, to which the engineers replied, at this rate, the project (to build dams across the river) will not be sanctioned. I regard this as cheating the nation.”

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