Ken-Betwa river interlinking: Core forest area of Panna tiger reserve will come under water, warns study

At loss: 2 million trees, tiger and its species, 58.03 sq km of critical tiger habitat

By Susan Chacko
Published: Tuesday 28 December 2021

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.

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 project may incur an estimated loss of 58.03 square kilometres (10.07 per cent) of critical tiger habitat (CTH) in the reserve.

There will be an indirect loss of 105.23 sq km of CTH because of habitat fragmentation and loss of connectivity due to submergence, the study, published in Current Science December 25, 2021, said.

The project may also lead to a loss of two million trees.

The total area submerged would be 86.50 sq km, of which 57.21 sq km lies within Panna Tiger Reserve, the study said. This will account for 65.50 per cent of total submergence.

The land use land cover and vegetation data shows that tree density and diversity are comparatively higher in the submerged area.

The regeneration pattern also shows that the seedling diversity and richness and sapling density, diversity and richness are high in the submerged area.

The area that will be submerged due to the KBRIL Project has a rich floral density and diversity, the study, carried out by researchers from the Department of Wildlife Sciences, Aligarh Muslim University, said.

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, the study said.

The Union Cabinet December 8, 2021, approved the funding and implementation of the Ken-Betwa inter-linking of rivers project at a cost of Rs 44,605 crore.

The project is expected to be completed in eight years. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the river linking project has been deemed a ‘national project’ and the Centre will take care of 90 per cent of the project’s cost.

The remaining 10 per cent cost will be shared by UP and MP.

The project spreads across the districts of two states — Jhansi, Banda, Lalitpur and Mahoba districts of Uttar Pradesh and Tikamgarh, Panna and Chhatarpur districts of Madhya Pradesh —  through a 230-km-long canal.

Handling Bundelkhand water crisis 

The construction of large dams for the interlinking of rivers to solve the irrigation and drinking water problems has created potential threats to faunal as well as floral diversity.

Panna Tiger Reserve is one of the important and successful tiger recovery reserves in the country.

A species recovery plan was developed to reinforce the tiger population, because of which the tiger population has increased from 0 in 2009 to 54 in 2019.

Panna Tiger Reserve was included in the global network of biosphere reserves by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2020.

The UNESCO cited PTR as a critical tiger habitat.

The Current Science study titled The inter-linking of rivers and biodiversity conservation: a study of Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India said there are examples within Bundelkhand on ways to manage the water crisis.

A 2019 NITI Aayog report had mentioned Jakhni village of Banda district in Bundelkhand, one of the most water-scarce regions of India. The area witnessed heavy out-migration in search of water and better livelihood opportunities.

However, through rigorous water conservation efforts such as the construction of farm ponds, restoration of water bodies, collection and utilization of greywater, raising of farm bunds and intensive plantation of trees since 2014, the water situation has improved. Jakhni village, for example, has become a water self-sufficient village.

 Once a drought-prone village, it now produces nearly 23,000 quintals of basmati rice. The production of other crops has also increased manifold.

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