Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday announced Rs 44,605 crore for the implementation of Ken-Betwa river link project which is necessary for irrigation of Bundelkhand region, prompting critical remarks from environmentalists.
Elaborating on the proposed Ken-Betwa and other five river linking projects, the Finance Minister said, “Implementation of the Ken-Betwa Link Project, at an estimated cost of Rs 44,605 crore will be taken up. This is aimed at providing irrigation to 9.08 lakh hectare of farmers’ lands.”
The project will also provide drinking water supply to 62 lakh people, generate 103 MW of hydropower, and 27 MW of solar power, she said, adding, “Of the total allotment, Rs 4,300 crore allocation comes from the Revised Estimate pertaining to 2021-22 and Rs 1,400 crore in 2022-23 in this budget.”
The draft detailed project reports (DPRs) of five river links, namely Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi-Narmada, Godavari-Krishna, Krishna-Pennar and Pennar-Cauvery have also been finalized. “Once a consensus is reached among the beneficiary states, the Centre will provide support for implementation,” she said.
Inter-linking of rivers has been a pending project from Modi government’s first term since 2014. Much to the chagrin of the environmentalists, the cabinet had in December 2021 cleared the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for Ken Betwa Interlinking of Rivers project that has still not got certain statutory clearances among other such projects.
“Vast tracts of habitat with good connectivity between habitat patches are essential for landscape-scale tiger conservation. If habitats are compromised, connectivity is eroded, or the protections provided to tigers and other wildlife are diluted in any way, the prospect of securing the future of tiger meta populations in India’s human dominated landscape only get harder. There is growing evidence of how severed habitat connectivity can precipitate the decline, or even lead to extinctions, for small, isolated populations,” said WWF India’s Lead, Tiger Projects, Dr Pranav Chanchani.
“With an increasing human footprint and fast growing infrastructure networks, the impacts of isolation are already showing in several populations by way of reduced genetic hetero-zygosity and shrinking populations that are not being strengthened by animals immigrating from nearby populations.
Congress leader and former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, tweeted: “On the one hand, the Budget talks of climate action and protecting the environment. On the other, it pushes ecologically disastrous river-linking projects. Rhetoric sounds nice but actions matter more. On that front, the Modi government is on a destructive path.”