Ken Betwa Link: Letter to Water Resources Minister and EAC in Dec 2016

December 27, 2016

To
Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation,
Govt of India,
New Delhi
 
Copy to Ministers of State (MoWR), Secretary (MOWR), OSD (MoWR), PS to MoWR
 
Respected Uma Bharati ji, 
 
We have seen reports in today’s news papers (e.g. http://www.uniindia.com/last-hurdle-for-ken-betwa-link-over-uma-bharti/india/news/730656.htmlhttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ken-betwa-river-linking-project-gets-wildlife-board-clearance/articleshow/56186886.cms andhttp://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/developmental-issues/ken-betwa-river-linking-project-gets-wildlife-board-clearance/articleshow/56186901.cms) which were basically giving an old news, several times published already, that Ken Betwa link has been recommended NBWL clearance. When enquired, we were told that this was based on MOWR’s official press release, published through PIB y’day evening, that is at 18.29 hours on Dec 26, 2016, see: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=155857

 
This official press release with first headline “Last Hurdle for Ken Betwa link over” from your ministry claimed in very first para: “Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Sushri Uma Bharti today announced that last hurdle for Ken Betwa river link project is over. Addressing a function in New Delhi today the Minister said wild life board has cleared the project and after deciding its funding pattern the formal construction work will start.” This claim was, it seems uncritically, reproduced in the above mentioned and other news reports. 
 
Firstly, as mentioned earlier, as far as NBWL clearance for the project is concerned, the recommendation came in NBWL meeting of Aug 23, 2016, the minutes dated Sept 19, 2016 put up on the MoEF website soon after Sept 19, 2016. So this is clearly not a new development. It is not clear by the MoWR is misleading the nation by putting this up on Dec 26, 2016 as if it is a new development. 
 
Secondly, it is totally wrong and misleading to say that the NBWL recommendation means “last hurdle for Ken Betwa river link project is over” and now only funding pattern remains to be finalised to start construction work. As a matter of fact, the Ken Betwa river link is yet to receive environment clearance and both stages of forest clearance. There is also no interstate agreement between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for implementation of the project, the earlier agreement of Aug 2005 was only for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR). Without all these and more (see below) in place, any work would be clearly illegal. One does not expect either the minister or the ministry to give such patently wrong statements in official press release. 
 
Thirdly, the NBWL recommendation does not means the final wildlife clearance as all recommendations for de-notification of protected areas are scheduled to go to Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court and the CEC has to decide if  they would like to refer the recommendation to the Supreme Court or not. That step is yet to be taken. 
 
Fourthly, NBWL recommendation is based on a number  of conditions, which will actually require a fresh environmental impact assessment. For example, as per the minutes of the 39th meeting of NBWL where this project was considered, “In response to the Committee’s query on the need of the Hydro Power Generation, he explained that all the power generating facilities shall be established outside the TR and the operations shall have minimal disturbance on the TR. He also assured that no fishing will be allowed at the dam site. After discussions, the Standing Committee agreed to recommend the proposal with the conditions prescribed by the Site Inspection team and NTCA, as agreed by MoWR…” (Emphasis added.)
 
However, currently, the power generations facilities are very much inside the Tiger Reserve. If the power generation facilities are to be established outside the Tiger Reserve (TR), than it will mean fresh design of these components, which also in turn would mean fresh environmental impact assessment and public consultation. The fresh design of the power component of the project and the consequent fresh EIA and public consultations are yet to happen. 
 
Fifthly, the govt has come out with a Ganga Notification on Oct 7, 2016 (see:http://wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/NMCGAuthorityNotification.pdf), which is now a law. According to this notification, any project like the Ken Betwa link, on a tributary in the Ganga basin, would need clearances from the relevant district, state and National Ganga River Conservation Authorities. These are also now statutory clearances as per the Gazette notification of your ministry. These authorities are yet to be constituted and thus their clearances are still pending. 
 
All this only to illustrate that Ken Betwa Link project is still to obtain many clearances and the construction cannot  start soon as claimed by the PIB press release from your ministry. The PIB press release from your ministry is thus misleading and is giving clearly wrong impression. 
 
We would urge you and MoWR to kindly provide point wise response to the issues raised here and also immediately issue a clarification about the misleading press release of your ministry y’day. 
 
Thanking you in anticipation,
 
Yours Sincerely,
 
1. Prof Brij Gopal, Centre for Inland waters in south Asia, Jaipur, brij44@gmail.com
2. Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi,indiariversweek2014@gmail.com
3. Shripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune,manthan.shripad@gmail.com
4. Samir Mehta, International Rivers South Asia, Mumbai, samir.meht@gmail.com
5. Joanna Van Gruisen, Baavan – Bagh Aap Aur Van, Panna, joannavg@gmail.com
6. Raghu Chundawat, Bagh, Aap Aur Van, Panna, raghu.baavan@gmail.com
7. Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi, ht.sandrp@gmail.com 
NWDA Index Map of Ken Betwa link proposal

NWDA Index Map of Ken Betwa link proposal

LETTER TO EAC:

December 28, 2016

To

Chairman and members,

Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower projects,

MoEF&CC, New Delhi

Subject: Concerns about Ken Betwa Project on agenda of EAC for EC for Dec 30 2016 meeting

Respected Chairman and Members,

We understand that Ken Betwa River Link Project (KBRLP) is on EAC agenda for the meeting to be held on Dec 30, 2016. In that context we have the following concerns.

  1. Project configuration needs to change following the NBWL condition The NBWL recommendation for KBRLP, as per the minutes of the 39th meeting of NBWL held on Aug 23, 2016, (see: http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/Minutes%20of%2039th%20SC%20NBWL%20-23.08.2016.pdf) is based on a number of conditions, including, “In response to the Committee’s query on the need of the Hydro Power Generation, he (Additional Secretary, MoWR) explained that all the power generating facilities shall be established outside the TR (Tiger Reserve) and the operations shall have minimal disturbance on the TR. He also assured that no fishing will be allowed at the dam site. After discussions, the Standing Committee agreed to recommend the proposal with the conditions prescribed by the Site Inspection team and NTCA, as agreed by MoWR…” (Emphasis added.)

However, currently, as per the documents and EIA submitted by the developer to MoEF and EAC for Environment Clearance for the project, the power generations facilities are very much inside the Tiger Reserve. If the power generation facilities are to be established outside the Tiger Reserve (TR), than it will mean fresh design of these components, reconfiguration of several parts of the project, which also in turn would mean fresh environmental impact assessment and public consultation. The EAC needs to keep this in mind.

Moreover, the minutes of the June 2016 EAC meeting also noted: “EAC suggested to explore the dropping of the hydropower generation component in the Project, including Infrastructure from planning of Ken-Betwa Link Project in view of likely ecological disturbances on wild life. Project proponent assured the committee to review the hydropower component.” However, there is no document on EC site for this project since the last meeting, which gives any information about such a review or provides any additional information since the last meeting. EAC needs to ask NWDA what is the decision about this. If the hydropower component is dropped, it would mean change in a number of project components and impacts.

  1. Implication of GOI’s Ganga Notification of Oct 7, 2016 The govt has come out with a Ganga Notification on Oct 7, 2016 (see: http://wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/NMCGAuthorityNotification.pdf), which is now a law. According to this notification, any project like the Ken Betwa link, on a tributary in the Ganga basin, would need clearances from the relevant district, state and National Ganga River Conservation Authorities. These are also now statutory clearances as per the Gazette notification of your ministry. These authorities are yet to be constituted and thus their clearances are still pending.
  1. How much area of Panna Tiger Reserve the project will impact? The EAC in minutes of the EAC meeting held on June 2016, when the project was last considered noted: “Only about 41.4 sq km which is 7.5% of the Panna Tiger Reserve area (576 sq km) will be submerged”. The minutes also notes that the additional secretary, MoWR, in his presentation before EAC, made similar claim. However, this is in variance with what is stated in minutes of the 39th meeting (held on Aug 23, 2016) of the NBWL standing committee, where this project was considered, states: “AIG (NTCA) presented the major concerns of Tiger Habitat, management issues and recommendations of NTCA, as examined under the Section 38 (O) (b) of WLPA. The major concerns of direct loss of tiger habitat of 105 sq.km, loss of vulture nesting sites and disturbances were presented.” No where in the EIA of the project that is before the EAC, has it been stated that 105 sq km of the tiger habitat will be directly lost due to the project, and the EIA and EAC keep mentioning much lower figure of 41.4 sq km. This again shows that the EIA and the project parameters before the EAC are much at variance with what is presented in other official statutory bodies. This again underlines the need for a fresh, credible EIA. In any case, the EAC needs to ask the developer to explain these differences.

The application of KBLRP for Forest Clearance says the project needs 6017 ha of forest land out of total land requirement of 11984 ha, total forest land required in Panna National Park includes 5578.92 ha of forest land and 2922 ha of Non forest land. It also says total forest land in submergence is 5761 ha, again grossly at at variance with the figures in EIA and EAC. The EAC needs to ask the developer to resolve these serious discrepancies first and reapply for clearance after coming up with correct figures.

  1. Other discrepancies in figures given by developer to EAC The minutes for June 2016 EAC meeting says: “There is no threat to Vulture population because only 3% habitat of vulture will be submerged and 97% of habitat will be more than 100 m above HFL.” This is untrue and baseless.

The minutes of June 2016 EAC meeting notes: “Construction of dam will help Ken Ghariyal sanctuary situated in the downstream because of more ecological flow of water round the year from this dam.” But it does not even take cognizance that as per DPR, some parts of the projects will be constructed inside the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary and there has not even been mention of it in the EIA, nor is there impact assessment.

The June 2016 EAC meeting minutes noted: “As observed in the 91st EAC meeting regarding constitution of committee by Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change in consultation with the EAC to give specific recommendations related to submergence of PTR Core area and the habitat loss for breeding of vultures, it was informed by Member Secretary – EAC that NBWL has already constituted a committee which is having some independent experts also. The EAC has asked that the copy of report of this committee be placed before them, for further deliberations.” However, these minutes are also not put up on the EC website.

The June 2016 EAC meeting minutes had noted this statement of the Prime Minister: “Considering the eco-system value of tiger conservation areas, we need to consider them as “natural capital”. Our institutions have done an economic valuation of a few tiger reserves. This has highlighted the fact that besides conserving tiger, these reserves, also provide a range of economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits. I would like to emphasis that conservation of tigers is not a choice. It is an imperative. In this conference let us resolve to work together to protect the tiger and it‟s space.” However, EAC needs to note that the EIA of the project has no mention of the lost of “economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits” that Panna Tiger Reserve provides. EAC may ask the EIA to be redone in that context and also due to other lacunae of the EIA.

5. Other outstanding issues related to Ken Betwa link: We would like to bring to the attention of the newly constituted EAC the following links where many other outstanding issues related to this project are listed, most of them remain unresolved, and would urge EAC to ask for resolution of these before KBRLP can be considered for Environment Clearance:

Even as we are writing this to you, there is a statement by the Ministry of Water Resources officials in media today (see: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/developmental-issues/ecologists-contradict-bhartis-claim-that-ken-betwa-river-link-is-ready-for-launch/articleshow/56206193.cms and http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/developmental-issues/ecologists-contradict-bhartis-claim-that-ken-betwa-river-link-is-ready-for-launch/articleshow/56206193.cms), claiming that your EAC will clear the project in the Dec 30 2016 meeting itself! Such presumptuous public statement by the officials of the development agency are clearly not good for the independent regulatory body like the EAC. We hope the EAC will convey this to the MoWR and NWDA.

In view of all this, we request EAC to not to consider the KBLRP for EC till these most significant issues are resolved.

Thanking you in anticipation,

Yours sincerely,

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, Delhi

Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary threatened by the Ken Betwa Link Photo from Trekearth.com

Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary threatened by the Ken Betwa Link Photo from Trekearth.com

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