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Modi to kick-start $87 billion river inter-linking project "without eco-clearance", top environmentalist objects

By Our Representative
Is the Government of India set to go ahead with its controversial $87 billion Ket-Betwa scheme to connect two major rivers without environmental clearance? It would seem so if, following a major report on this, facts revealed by senior environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar are any indication.
The scheme involves construction of a dam on the Ken river, also known as the Karnavati, in north-central India and a 22-km (14-mile) canal connecting it to the shallow Betwa. Both rivers flow through vast areas of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, both under BJP rule. The project is supposed to provide the initial boost, required for other proposed river interlinking projects.
Thakkar, taking strong exception to the reported  clearance of the the project, says, "The environmental clearance does not exist, final forest clearance does not exist, conditional wild life clearance is under scrutiny by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which is to be followed by Supreme Court scrutiny and inter-state agreement between MP and UP."
In fact, Thakkar says, "The actual Environmental Clearance letter is yet to be issued", something for which one has to just see "the the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change's (MoEFCC's) Environmental Clearance website", adding, all other clearances are conditional and not valid till forest and wildlife recommendations happen.
Worse, says Thakkar, even the are environmental public hearings for the the canal and the downstream affected areas, as required for clearing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, which, according to him is "flawed". Given all these facts, Thakkar says, the claim that there exists a Cabinet note to allow the project to go ahead has little meaning, as the Cabinet note "is not a statutory document."
Despite these steps, considered necessary for moving ahead with the project, Modi is said to have personally pushed through clearances for its first phase of the project, "despite opposition from environmentalists, tiger lovers and a former royal family." Sanjeev Balyan, the junior water resources minister, has been quoted as saying that “we have got clearances in record time, with the last round of clearances coming in only this year,”
The 425-km Ken flows through a tiger reserve, with the government planning to clear out 6.5% of the forest reserve to build the dam, relocating nearly 2,000 families from 10 villages. Further, the proposed 77-metre high, 2-km long dam on the Ken River will submerge 9,000 hectares of mostly forest land. A big portion will come from the Panna Tiger Reserve, near the UNESCO world heritage site of Khajuraho Temple in Madhya Pradesh. The forest reserve, a major tourist attraction, is home to 30-35 tigers and nearly 500 vultures.
Yet, there are indications that the Union Cabinet is likely to give its final go-ahead for the project within a couple of weeks, after which Modi would flag off construction at the site, which is situated "about 805 km (500 miles) from New Delhi, currently marked only by rows of red concrete slabs placed on the ground."
This will be followed by the government "finishing up paperwork on projects in western India linking the Par-Tapi with the Narmada and the Daman Ganga with the Pinjal. The projects involve Modi’s home state of Gujarat and neighbouring Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, both also ruled by the BJP."
The river-linking projects was contemplated under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1981. Repeated attempts to go ahead with its different components got stalled because state governments sparred over water sharing contracts. This time, officials wonder, starting with projects that are all in BJP-ruled states would see "smooth negotiations."

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