The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Tuesday decided to clear Phase-I of the Ken-Betwa river linking project even though the expert committee constituted by the board is yet to submit its site visit report. The Rs 10,000-crore project requires diversion of 5,258 hectares of forest land, including 4,141 hectares of Panna Tiger Reserve. Considering the impact of the project on the habitat and wildlife of Panna Tiger Reserve, the standing committee of the NBWL had decided in March that an expert committee comprising Dr Raman Sukumar, Dr H S Singh and a representative each from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Institute of India, the state government and the ministry of water resources would conduct a site visit and file a feasibility report within a month.The committee visited Panna in the second week of April and was supposed to submit its report by April 30. The agenda of Tuesday’s meeting noted that the report was still awaited. Instead, a presentation was made, based on which, say sources present at the meeting, the standing committee chaired by environment minister Prakash Javadekar went ahead and decided to clear the irrigation project “to help the drought affected areas of Bundelkhand”
Dr H S Singh and Dr Raman Sukumar, non-government members of the expert panel and the standing committee of the NBWL, confirmed that the site visit report was yet to be submitted. “A presentation was made (at the meeting) and we will submit the report in a day or two. There will be certain safeguards. I cannot comment on clearances. You will get to know in a few days,” Dr Singh told after the meeting on Tuesday. “We are yet to submit the report. I cannot comment on decisions taken by the ministry till the minutes of the meeting are made public. Our report will not compromise on facts,” said Dr Sukumar over phone on Wednesday. The draft minutes of Tuesday’s meetings, say sources in the ministry, are ready and will be released after obtaining the minister’s approval. Originally mooted in the 1980s and conceived under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the Ken-Betwa river linking project was expected to take off this January but is yet to get environmental or forest clearances — both hinge on the user agency’s ability to address ecological concerns and satisfy the NBWL on the project’s potential impact on Panna Tiger Reserve.