Jayashree Nandi| TNN | Updated: Apr 9, 2017, 10.19 AM IST
NEW DELHI: The forest advisory committee (FAC), an expert body that advises the government on approval or rejection of major projects involving diversion of forest land has recently recommended the Ken-Betwa river link project (phase 1) in Madhya Pradesh for forest clearance.
But minutes of FAC's meeting held on March 30 when the river linking project which is likely to submerge more than 6000 ha of forest land including prime tiger habitat, was discussed reveals that the panel has several reservations with the project.
About 4141 ha of the total area to be submerged falls within the core Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR). FAC in the minutes observed that "If there is no other option and the present proposal is the best possible option available with the government in light of the demand of water in this area and for human welfare, the proposal for diversion of forest land from PTR may be considered...." FAC refers to an earlier report filed by a subcommittee of the FAC, and states that the construction of the proposed Dhaudhan dam inside the reserve is "not the best option in the light of conservation of the pristine forest and its ecosystem." The panel also observes that it's not possible to compensate the loss because the submergence area falls in a riverine habitat which is "unique" and "cannot be replicated elsewhere."
FAC has recommended that the loss of forest land has to be compensated by purchasing revenue or other non-forest land. "The project proponents and the government should compensate the loss of forestland and tiger habitat through purchase and transfer to PTR equivalent revenue and private land." The panel also recommended that the height of Dhaudan dam be re-examined to conserve a part of the tiger reserve. FAC suggested the height of the dam may be reduced by 10 meters if not at least 5 meters as a "trade-off between conservation and development." FAC's subcommittee had examined the cost-benefit analysis made by the government. In the cost benefit ratio the capital cost was about Rs 13744 Crore and annual benefit was assessed to be Rs 2829 Crore. The committee had noted that the cost benefit analysis had not paid attention to eco system services lost due to "diversion of unique riverine eco system." FAC has recommended a cost benefit analysis should be done considering the ecological cost of diversion of PTR.
Experts from the EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC) said "reading of the minutes makes us feel that FAC has recommended the project half-heartedly. In fact they recommended the project in absence of the essential tools." Pushp Jain of ERC said "It is unbelievable that a project under preparation for more than a decade should not provide actual verifiable submergence area and number of trees going to be lost. It is still not clear whether it would 30, 40 or 50 lakh trees. It is another matter that such huge loss is involved in the project."
The FAC has Director General of Forests as Chairman and other senior forest officials as members. It also has unofficial expert members such as Sanjay V Deshmukh, VC of Mumbai University and Deepak Apte, director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).