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Ken Betwa Project : Plan to Massacre Millions of Trees Give Goosebumps

 India should  drop the idea  of Ken Betwa  Linking Project (KBLP) which will require felling of  2 to 4  million trees in the emerald forests of Panna national park . Think of the  loss of this staggering  number of trees  in the backdrop of the  unprecedented summers that the country  experienced in the year 2024. Many parts of Bundelkhand where Panna  is situated recorded 49 degrees Celsius while the mercury  soared to 52.9 degrees C in Delhi, later corrected by the government to 50 degrees C (49.9). For a moment forget  the loss of tiger habitat  in the park, think over our own survival. Referring to the  special morphological significance and unique biodiversity of Panna national park, the central empowered committee of the Supreme Court  on the KBLP  observed ," implementing this project would result in the complete breakdown of the evolutionary processes of millions of years." It warned of the widespread ecological devastation.River Ken  is lifeline of  the tiger reser

Ken Betwa Project : Plan to Massacre Millions of Trees Give Goosebumps

Ken river  in Panna tiger reserve

 India should  drop the idea  of Ken Betwa  Linking Project (KBLP) which will require felling of  2 to 4  million trees in the emerald forests of Panna national park. Think of the  loss of this staggering  number of trees  in the backdrop of the  unprecedented summers that the country  experienced in the year 2024. Many parts of Bundelkhand where Panna  is situated recorded 49 degrees Celsius while the mercury  soared to 52.9 degrees C in Delhi, later corrected by the government to 50 degrees C (49.9). For a moment forget  the loss of tiger habitat  in the park, think over our own survival. Referring to the  special morphological significance and unique biodiversity of Panna national park, the central empowered committee of the Supreme Court  on the KBLP  observed ," implementing this project would result in the complete breakdown of the evolutionary processes of millions of years." It warned of the widespread ecological devastation.River Ken  is lifeline of  the tiger reserve and the government wants to link it with river Betwa to  solve water crisis of Bundelkhand. Panna Tiger Reserve which once lost all its tigers in 2009, is now a stronghold of the magnificent feline with more than 60  tigers roaming in the park . After a successful tiger reintroduction, the park has successfully maintained its tiger population.

Learn Lessons From Summer 2024

Proposed Dhaudhan dam project

Much has been written on the KBLP .The proposed Daudhan dam will submerge an area of around 9,000 hectares of land, of which 5,803 hectares lies within the tiger reserve . A total of 6,017 hectares of forest land will have to be cleared, of which 4,141 hectares are within the sensitive core of the reserve. To give an idea of the enormity of the tree loss,   the deforestation  is going to take place in the jungle, almost  equal to 8,427 football fields. According to the report of a sub-committee of the Forest Advisory Committee, at least 23 lakh (2.3 million) trees will need to be cut down ( many experts quote the figure to 46 lakh) for the  project implementation ,this is 1000 times more number of trees that were uprooted in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony in 2019 to build car sheds for the Mumbai Metro. Can we afford such a huge loss in the times of global warming?  

Also read: Why  India Should Rethink Over Coal Mining in Hasdeo Arand Forest 

We should learn a lesson from the summer of 2024 .It is just a beginning. And as if KBLP  was not enough. There  is a proposed elevated corridor project to construct a  21 km road inside the national park which would require felling of more and more trees.This road patch of the NH31 also passes through the core area of the tiger reserve. The park director  Anjana Tirkey said that the project is in a very preliminary stage  and a permission for only a survey  was given.  But the very thought of road construction  is scary. Besides KBLP,  32 lakh trees are estimated to be cut in Hansdeo Aranya  in Chattisgarh for coal mining.Fore record, after Brazil, the country with the second highest levels of deforestation is India which has lost 668,400 hectares of forestry  between 2015 to 2020, a report says

More Projects in The Offing Means More Tree Felling 

Tree felling

From 2020 to 2022, the ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has given clearances to around 87 development projects, with three falling in protected areas. Around 2.3 million trees will have to be removed to support these projects, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, minister of state for MoEFCC, told the Rajya Sabha on  February 2, 2023. As the government goes ahead with the  implementation of the KBLP as  part of stage-I clearance, a Landscape Management Plan (LMP) of entire Panna tiger reserve , including Ken Gharial Sanctuary, is being prepared by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which would provide options for habitat consolidation and conservation of Panna landscape,  minister of State for Jal Shakti, Bishweswar Tudu  said in a written  reply in Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2022 . 

Also read: Ken-Betwa Project:Dam of Doom for Panna Tiger Reserve 

 The proposed Panna landscape has been identified by keeping PTR in the centre and connecting all the adjoining forest divisions as well as Nauradehi (MP), Rani Durgawati (MP) and Ranipur (UP) wildlife sanctuaries. The LMP includes 11 districts (3 in UP and 8 in MP) and a total area of around 47,620 sq. km. Total forest area in the landscape is 12,125 sq. km. The stakeholders as well as the forest managers and experts have been consulted at every stage of preparation of LMP.The project is thus aimed at not only providing water security in the Bundelkhand region but also ensuring the overall conservation of the region, especially for the landscape dependent species such as tiger, vultures and gharials., he added.

Also read: India's Forest Cover : Up, Down Or Cover- Up 

The LMP came into the picture, said a retired director of the tiger reserve, after the CEC  left an "exit plan" for the government. The CEC report may have been lauded by independent  environmentalists, but it left  an "opening"  in the form of LMP.  " Neither  LMP nor compensatory afforestation of any scale  can make-up for the massive massacre of trees", he said.  Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the  South Asian Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP )  said, " Ken Betwa River link Project still does not have all the statutory clearances. Its Stage 2 Forest Clearance is on conditions that would change the basic parameters of the project, requiring fresh environmental impact assessment (EIA) , environmental clearance (EC) and other clearances. Validity of its wildlife clearance has been questioned by the CEC and is yet to be considered by the Supreme Court."  He said that   "Its EC remains challenged before the NGT. Should a project   like this -requiring felling of 46 lakh trees- go ahead without even credible assessments or public consultation process that too in a climate change era ?  Should it be considered when better, more cost effective and much less destructive options are available?, he opined.

" Avoid Such Projects" 

Tree felling

Normally, a natural forest evolves over a period of 100 years, and we cannot recreate a natural forest , Large scale tree felling affects the water cycle, it would also lead to an increase in carbon dioxide, thereby increasing global warming. So by  cutting 4 million trees, we,  in fact,  would  aid , expedite or contributing further to the global warming.  The Standing Committee to look into the impact of the proposed KBLP had made a scathing remark about the project: “No developmental project should destroy the ecology of [a] remnant [of a] fragile ecosystem and an important tiger habitat in the country. In an ideal situation, it would be best to avoid such projects in such wilderness areas with protected area status and specifically when it runs the risk of providing justification or unhealthy precedence for more such developmental project within the protected areas that will not be in the interest of wildlife and the overall well-being of the society in the long term." In April 2022, the Madras High Court declared nature as a living being with all rights and duties of a living being.Let us  atleast respect the court's verdict. 

By : Deshdeep Saxena

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