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Ken-Betwa river interlinking: Panna tiger reserve at risk

Context:

The Ken-Betwa River Interlinking (KBRIL) Project will lead to the submergence of a major portion of the core area of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, triggering a major loss of the tiger and its major prey species such as chital and sambar, according to a new study.

Relevance:

GS-I: Geography (Drainage System in India, Projects to improve Irrigation), GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Interlinking of Rivers
  2. What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?
  3. Which regions will benefit from the Ken-Betwa Link Project?
  4. Panna National Park
  5. About the Impact of KBRIL on Panna Tiger reserve

Interlinking of Rivers

  • In 1858, Arthur Cotton (British general and irrigation Engineer) came up with even more ambitious proposals such as connecting all major rivers of India, and interlinking of canals and rivers. He suggested drought-relief measures for Odisha.
  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP) formally known as the National Perspective Plan, envisages the transfer of water from water ‘surplus’ basins where there is flooding, to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects.
  • The interlinking of river project is a Civil Engineering project, which aims to connect Indian rivers through reservoirs and canals.
  • The farmers will not have to depend on the monsoon for cultivation and also the excess or lack of water can be overcome during flood or drought.
  • Since the 1980s, the interlinking project has been managed by India’s National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under the Ministry of Water Resources.

It has been split into three parts as follows:

  1. A northern Himalayan river interlink component.
  2. A southern peninsular component.
  3. An Intra-State river linking component.

As of now, six ILR projects have been under examination of the authorities:

  1. Ken-Betwa,
  2. Damanganga- Pinjal,
  3. Par-Tapi-Narmada,
  4. Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga,
  5. Mahanadi-Godavari and
  6. Godavari-Cauvery (Grand Anicut)
  7. With regard to the peninsular rivers, the Centre has chosen to focus on the Godavari-Cauvery link.

What is the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

  • The Ken-Betwa Link Project is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers.
  • KBRIL is a river-interlinking project that aims to transfer surplus water from the Ken river in Madhya Pradesh to Betwa in Uttar Pradesh to irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region.
  • Both Ken and Betwa are the tributaries of the Yamuna.
  • The Ken-Betwa Link Canal will be 221 km long, including a 2-km long tunnel.

A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the project

  • According to the statement, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Ken-Betwa Link Project Authority (KBLPA) will be set up to implement the project.
  • In fact, the Centre has set in motion the process of creation of National Interlinking of Rivers Authority (NIRA), an independent autonomous body for planning, investigation, financing and implementation of the interlinking of river (ILR) projects in the country.
  • The NIRA will have powers to set up SPV for individual link projects.

Which regions will benefit from the Ken-Betwa Link Project?

  • The project lies in Bundelkhand, a drought-prone region, which spreads across 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • According to the Jal Shakti Ministry, the project will be of immense benefit to the water-starved region, especially the districts of Panna, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh, Datia, Vidisha, Shivpuri and Raisen of Madhya Pradesh, and Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur of Uttar Pradesh.
  • “It will pave the way for more interlinking of river projects to ensure that scarcity of water does not become an inhibitor for development in the country,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Panna National Park

  • Panna National Park was established in 1981 – located in Panna and Chhatarpur districts of Madhya Pradesh – and was declared a Project Tiger Reserve in the year 1994 by the Central Government.
  • UNESCO designated the Panna Tiger Reserve as a Biosphere Reserve in 2011.
  • In 2021, Panna Tiger Reserve was awarded the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CAITS) certificate by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for meeting the established international standards for tiger conservation and management.
  • The National Park is situated at a point where the continuity of the tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests belt, which starts from Cape Comorin in South India, is broken and beyond this the Upper Gangetic Plains moist deciduous forests of the great Indo-Gangetic Plain begins.
  • This area is the northernmost tip of the natural teak forests and the animals found here are the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, chital, chinkara, nilgai, Sambar deer and sloth bear, rusty-spotted cat, Asian palm civet.
  • The forests of Panna National Park along with Ken Gharial Sanctuary and adjoining territorial divisions form a significant part of the catchment area of the Ken River, which runs northeast for about 72 km through the park.

About the Impact of KBRIL on Panna Tiger reserve

  • The project may incur an estimated loss of over 50 square kilometres (>10 per cent) of critical tiger habitat (CTH) in the reserve. The project may also lead to a loss of two million trees.
  • There will be an indirect loss of over 100 sq km of CTH because of habitat fragmentation and loss of connectivity due to submergence.
  • The land use land cover and vegetation data shows that tree density and diversity are comparatively higher in the submerged area.
  • The area that will be submerged due to the KBRIL Project has a rich floral density and diversity, and the regeneration pattern also shows that the seedling diversity and richness and sapling density, diversity and richness are high in the submerged area.
  • Ungulates such as sambar, chital, blue bull and wild boar are the best indicators of good health of a habitat. They are found higher in submerged regions as they prefer moist areas with high vegetation cover.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

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September 2022
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