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MP: Ken-Betwa Interlinking Project May Lead to Panna Losing Diamond Sites, Residents Write to UNESCO

The project has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists and residents of the region, who allege that the state governments of UP and MP are hurrying without the required environmental permission because of the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Panna Protest

Dilhar Kumari, member of the Panna Royal Family, holding a placard against the proposed interlinking project.

Bhopal: The erstwhile royal family of Panna as well as the residents have launched a silent protest against the linking of Ken-Betwa rivers a week after Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on sharing of water.

On March 22, the Chief Ministers of both the states signed the MoU on the inter-linking of the two monsoon rivers, 18 years after the ambitious inter-linking of rivers programme was conceived during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government to provide water to parched regions of the country. The project has been estimated at Rs 35,000 crore.

Ever since the plan was conceived, both these states have disputed over the sharing of water, but the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states have come arrived at agreement following the intervention of Union government agencies.

Meanwhile, the protest against the project has also intensified. Members of the royal family along with residents are protesting across the city of Panna, holding placards with slogans like ‘Stop Ken-Betwa project, stop cutting 23 lakh trees, the project is a curse on Tiger Reserve’. The protesters stand at various sites of the city including near temples and highways that pass through the area.

panna protest 2.

Residents of Panna protest against Ken-Betwa interlinking project.

“Panna has already lost too many things for the sake of the Tiger Reserve,” said advocate Ankit Sharma of Panna, who has been opposing the project for years.

“Dozens of mines are shut, thousands of people have been shifted from the jungles. Unemployment, migration and malnutrition has surged in the district to make Panna the prime breeding spots for tigers. But, years after the toil, the government has decided to dig up more than 6,000 hectare of core areas of tiger reserve and cut down more than 23 lakh trees. The project may affect the ecosystem of the region,” he added. 

Local residents also registered their disappointment when Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was on a two-day visit to Panna Tiger Reserve to celebrate Holi with his family. Residents including children silently stood with placards at various locations where CM Chouhan was scheduled to visit. Others stood outside the famous Jugal Kishore temple, where he had planned to visit, with placards urging him to rethink over the project as it may cost fatal to them.

Residents of Panna protest against Ken-Betwa interlinking project.

Residents of Panna protest against Ken-Betwa interlinking project.

Even the Queen Mother of the Panna Royal family, Dilhar Kumari, held up placards outside her palace to register her protest against the propose project. Commenting over it, Maharani Jiteshwari Judevi of Panna Royal Family, said, “The project would spell doom not only for the tigers and white-rumped vultures which are rare in the country, but also to the diamonds, which Panna is known for.”

She said, “Panna will lose the world famous diamond site forever if the ambitious Ken-Betwa rivers water linking project is implemented. It’s a gift which generates crores of revenue for the government. However, instead of embracing it, the government is foolishly destroying and disturbing the ecosystem of formation of diamonds.”

Panna’s lands are not like any other lands, Judevi said, adding that it’s with rich diamonds and also releases carbon dioxide which may turn the water poisonous and it had happened nearly 350 years ago. “An in depth study must be done by the scientists and geologists on this before moving ahead with the project,” she said.

Seeing no way out, the residents as well as the queen have also written letters to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) urging them to conduct a survey on the feasibility of the project as the government did not do so, taking the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) report under consideration which has opposed the project.

Residents of Panna protest against Ken-Betwa interlinking project.

Residents of Panna protest against Ken-Betwa interlinking project.

In reply to the Jiteshwari Judevi letter, Mechtild Rossler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage has claimed that they have forwarded the issue to the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme for follow up.

Salim Khan, a local journalist who runs a web news portal, claimed that no report has come to light which supports the inter-linking project of Ken-Betwa. In 2019, a Supreme Court appointed committee criticised the project and termed it fatal. “When reports, environmentalists, water activists and local residents are against the project, why is the government so adamant to pursue the project?” he asked, adding that it’s allegedly because of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh election.

When contacted, field director of Panna Tiger Reserve, Uttam Kumar Singh, said, “The MoU has only been signed for the distribution of water. It's a long way to go before the project will begin.”

Spelling the details, he said, “There are three parties in the project – Union government, state government and the Supreme Court. In 2017, the Union government gave its formal nod to the state for the project with terms and conditions including giving 6,000 hectare of land (PTR land submerging in the linking project) to Tiger Reserve by the state, adjacent to the reserve. Besides, the matter is subjudice before the High Court and Supreme Court. An SC appointed committee has already submitted its report in 2019.

Until the state government fulfills all the demands made by the Union government, the project can’t be moved forward, he added.

As per the MoU, the UP government which was initially demanding 930 million cubic metre water (MCM) during the rabi season, agreed for 750 while MP will get 1,834 MCM water, said an official.

panna protest 6.

The official further said, 2,800 MCM of water will be diverted from Ken to Betwa through a 73.8 metre high dam proposed on Ken at Daudhan in MP’s Chhatarpur district.

As per CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s claim, the project will benefit the people of nine districts of MP – Sagar, Damoh, Chhatarpur, Vidisha, Shivpuri, Raisen, Panna and Tikamgarh and four districts of Uttar Pradesh -- Mahoba, Jhansi, Lalitpur and Banda. The project will provide 1 million hectare of land with irrigation and 6.2 million people of Bundelkhand region will get drinking water.

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