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Why Ken Betwa link project is anti-river initiative

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, December 29, 2016 | 10:25 PM


Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
Government of India
New Delhi

Date: December 28, 2016

Subject-Why Ken Betwa link project is anti-river initiative  

Respected Uma Bharati Jee, 

With reference to the release of Press Information Bureau (PIB), Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India titled “Last Hurdle for Ken Betwa link over” dated 26 December, 2016, your ministry’s reply to me (No. NWDA/113/55/Tech./2015) dated 24th June, 2015 in response to my letter to you on the question of “Why several states remain opposed to rewriting of geography through interlinking of rivers” and a recent article in Yathavat magazine regarding routine announcement about Interlinking of Rivers to divert attention from failure to save Ganga river and its basin. 

We submit that the proponents of Ken Betwa link project fails to appreciate the pearls of wisdom from Mahabharata that describes the Divine Being saying, “The mountains are his bones. The earth is his fat and flesh. The oceans are his blood. Space is his stomach. The Wind is his breath. Fire is his energy. The rivers are his arteries and veins. Agni and Soma, otherwise called the Sun and the Moon, are called his eyes. The firmament above is his head. The earth is his two feet. The cardinal and subsidiary points of the horizon are his arms,” the new government should reject the idea of “inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility”. This is narrated by Bhishma in conversation with Yudhishthira while referring to the reply of sage Bhrigu to sage Bharadwaja. This verse occurs in the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.

We submit that the proponents fail to recognize that Interlinking of rivers project is an exercise in delinking because it entails mutilation of the veins and arteries of the divine nature. Rivers shape the terrain and lives of people by its waters which are always in a dynamic state. Breaking this dynamic would unleash forces of uncontrolled change and invite the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

With regard to clearance of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for the Ken Betwa link project, the fact is that the recommendation came in its meeting dated August 23, 2016. This is revealed from the minutes dated September 19, 2016 published on the website of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change. It is evident that it is not a new development. It is a sad commentary on the news agencies which published this old news as it reveals that they do not look critically at news regarding interlinking of rivers project.  It is equally sad that PIB, a wing of Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting releases such old news as new development without application of mind. 

We submit that the claim that the NBWL recommendation means “last hurdle for Ken Betwa river link project is over” constitutes grave misrepresentation of facts.

We submit that this project not received Environmental Clearance from Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and both stages of forest clearance.

We submit that the recommendation of NBWL does not imply final wildlife clearance under the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 given the fact that all recommendations for de-notification of protected areas are scheduled to go to Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which has to decide whether or not to refer the NBWL’s recommendation to the Supreme Court or not.
We submit that there is a compelling logic for a fresh Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and public hearing given the fresh design of the power component of the project outside the Tiger Reserve. 

We submit that every project including the Ken Betwa link project proposed on a tributary in the Ganga basin is required to seek clearances from the concerned district, state and National Ganga River Conservation Authorities. As per the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016 dated 7th October, 2016 notified in the Gazette of India, these are statutory clearances. This has not been done so far.

We submit that if Ken Betwa river link project is on EAC agenda for the meeting to be held on December 30, 2016, it should ensure project configuration is altered to meet the conditions laid down by NBWL as per the minutes of the 39th meeting of NBWL held on August 23, 2016.

We submit that the minutes of EAC meeting dated June 2016 merits your attention. It reads: “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.” It is noteworthy that if the hydropower component is dropped, it would consequent in changes in components of project factoring its impacts.

We submit that 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.” Nowhere 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 Ken-Betwa project 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 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.

We submit that the June 2016 EAC meeting minutes had noted this statement of Hon’ble Prime Minister: “Considering the eco-system value of tiger conservation areas, we need to consider them as “natural capital”. EAC needs to note that the EIA of the project has no mention of the lost of “economic, social, cultural and spiritual benefits” provided by the Panna Tiger Reserve mentioned by the Hon’ble Prime Minister.

NWDA’s contention “the ILR projects are green projects and these link projects under ILR Programme have been formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project” ignores the glaring fact of South Asia’s biggest ecological crisis due to construction of embankments in Kosi basin in Bihar and Nepal. These misplaced engineering interventions have created unprecedented drainage congestion crisis even as NWDA and its sister organizations keep claiming that it was “formulated by exercising all caution and considering all engineering parameters required for the project.” NWDA’S contention ignores the lessons from the drying up of Aral Sea, the world biggest ecological catastrophe because of diversion of Siberian rivers in former USSR.

We submit that some 60 years ago Aral Sea basin was a richly forested eco-system fed by two of the longest rivers in Asia. It stretched 266 miles from its northern port, Aral'sk, to the port on its southern delta, Muynak. The lake was fed in the north by the Syr-Dar'ya River, flowing from its headwaters in Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then north through Kazakhstan into the lake. The Amu-Dar'ya River begins near Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, flowing along the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before forming a delta at the southern end of the Aral Sea. After the collapse of USSR, Kazakhstan borders the Aral Sea in the north, while Uzbekistan lies on the south shore. After the collapse USSR, scientists discovered that the Aral Sea was missing. At present the Aral Sea has lost three-fourths of its former volume and two-thirds of its former surface area. The water level has dropped by almost seventy feet, and the salinity of the lake is triple the level of forty years ago. The former sea has split into two parts with a diminishing trickle of water between them. There are projections about its complete disappearance in near future.

We submit that quite like the proposed ILR project, Soviet government had launched a massive irrigation project. In 1ate 1930s when it was decided to drain the rivers of the Aral basin to irrigate wide expanses of desert disregarding the advice and prediction of Soviet scientists about its adverse consequences for the Aral Sea and its ecosystem if the Amu-Dar'ya and Syr-Dar'ya were exploited as planned, but their advice was ignored. As a result, water from the two rivers

stopped reaching the sea much of the time, and not at all in dry years. The Amu-Dar'ya stopped reaching the sea due to drought, and water from the Syr-Dar'ya did not reach the sea during the summer when needed for irrigation, coming instead in the winter and causing floods, exacerbating the ecological situation. The sea began drying up within years after introduction of the plan, but the USSR government argued that "the disappearance of the sea would be good, because then more cotton fields could be planted on the seabed." The desertification of the Aral Sea was not a natural process; it was deliberate process akin to the proposed ILR project.

We wish to point out what Shri Mikhail Gorbachev, formerly President of the USSR said in this regard. He said, “After the extent of the Aral Sea tragedy became known, we stabilized the unsustainable irrigation schemes which were cutting off the water supply to the Aral Sea, and halted a project which had been planned by engineers to divert two major Siberian rivers.” He added, “The most important lesson is that the developments in science and technology of the past century bring with them not only huge benefits, but also great responsibility, as human mistakes or mismanagement can now cause irreversible damage to the environment, immeasurable human suffering and threaten the very habitability of large parts of our precious planet.”

NWDA’s claim, “The ILR projects will provide boost in every sphere of life including job creation, greenery, tourism and ultimately helps in food production and thus increase food security of the nation” is an exercise in empty posturing. It does not provide any figures for such claims. It does not disclose the quantum of agricultural land that will be submerged and how much of such land will be put to non-agricultural purposes while making unsubstantiated claims about “food production” and “food security”. Unless NWDA provides figures for how food production will suffer and impact food security due to submergence and diversion of agricultural land such claims are manifestly misleading.
We submit that the proposed Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project will kill the rivers and their basins. It will destroy groundwater recharge system. The fact is that surface water projects are not delivering, they only seem to involve scandals.

We wish to draw your attention towards a book ‘Free the CBI’ by Late Shri B R Lall, former Joint Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wherein there is a reference author’s letter to Shri K Vijaya Rama Rao, the then Director, CBI in August 1995. In this letter he mentions that he strove for complete investigation into the power sector, which is draining the country. In the book it is mentioned that kickbacks may be 3 to 10 % of the project cost, but up-valuation is anything between 40 to 100 % of the real project cost. He had sent a report on Chamera project to Director, CBI where against an estimated cost of Rs 1393 crores in 1992, the negotiations for allotment are on for Rs 3300 to 3600 crores i.e.@ Rs 12 crores per MW whereas world over rate of only around Rs 6 crores per MW is considered reasonable for hydro electric projects. In the letter it is reasoned that even if this figure were to be Rs 2000 crores for 300 MW Chamera project, shouldn’t it be examined when Rs 1000 to 1500 crore of the nation is being squandered for kickbacks of Rs 100 crore. The Director CBI never permitted this probe.

We demand a high level probe in the hydro power sector before pursuing the ILR project which entails such projects as well.

We submit that as per the Planning Commission’s Tenth Plan document, there are 383 ongoing major and medium projects awaiting completion, 111 of which are pending since pre-fifth Plan period i.e. more than 26 years. All these can be completed within five to eight years, yielding an additional potential of about 14 million hectares at a cost of Rs 77,000 crore as estimated by the plan task force, now raised to Rs 100,000 crore.

The second component listed in the Plan is development of minor irrigation, mostly in the eastern and northeastern regions. The total potential assessed is 24.5 million hectares with a total investment of Rs 54,000 crore, of which the government is expected to provide only Rs 13,500 crore, the balance coming from beneficiary farmers and institutional loans. The cost per hectare is only Rs 20,000 and gestation period almost nil, against a cost of Rs 100,000 and 12 years' gestation in case of major and medium projects.

The third equally beneficial scheme mentioned in the Plan is the groundwater recharge master plan prepared by the Central Ground Water Board needing Rs 24,500 crore to trap 36 billion cubic meters of water annually.

We submit that these measures are quite clearly better than the project of networking of rivers. The concerned judges would serve the ecological interest of the subcontinent better if they could pay heed to these proposals of the Plan document. Judges at all levels have, by and large, justified the confidence reposed in them. But there is scope for improvement in several spheres and it is up to the judiciary itself to rectify the defects in its role and prove to the public that as long as there is an efficient, impartial, independent and incorruptible judiciary, democracy in India will be safe from the tyranny of the executive and also the judiciary.

We submit that the proposal of networking Peninsular and Himalayan rivers emerges from a lack of rigorous evaluation of the ecological impacts which would prove disastrous not only to the fishery, but also to the biodiversity and biotic processes that have evolved over the past hundred of millions of years.
We must remember if water scarcity is the perennial question, there better answers like the groundwater recharge master plan available with the government. Water can be made to “Reach to All Homes, Farms and Factories” by adopting this plan as well at a minimal cost. 

It submitted that whenever there is conflict between financial gains and rivers, the latter must get priority over monetary benefits because by any yard stick economic value of a free flowing river is bigger than dammed and mutilated rivers.  The capitalist, communist and colonial legacy of treating rivers as material flow that flow through pipelines must be abandoned and rivers must be treated as living beings that nourished our civilization for centuries and can nourish all the coming generations if cannibalistic tendency of diverting waters in bottles, dams and banks is stopped.

We submit that NWDA is under structural compulsion to push these ecologically destructive projects envisaged in 1970s to justify their continued existence. NCAER, NWDA and their promoters remain trapped in pre-climate crisis era wherein “taming of rivers”, dams were temples and not outcome of disease of gigantism and conquest over nature was considered part of scientific temper with which rivers could be murdered with impunity.

We submit that in 1715 India accounted for 25 % of world industrial output. India’s share in the world’s industrial output became possible without engineering the landscape and replumbing the river valleys of the sub continent which is already demonstrably earth quake prone.

In view of the recent earth quakes, unpredictable rainfall and changing weather pattern, we are under logical compulsion to reiterate that for the sake of sanity and humanity, projects like Ken-Betwa project under Interlinking of Rivers project should be abandoned.

We would be happy to meet you as a delegation and share relevant documents in this regard.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
Ganga Bachao Samiti (GBS)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660

Shri Anil Madhav Dave, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Chairman and members, Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower projects, MoEF&CC

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