While both the Centre and the state government see this project as a solution to the water crisis in Bundelkhand region, activists are worried as over the prospect of 4,000 hectares of forest going under water inside the tiger reserve.
The Centre contends the river interlinking project will bring water to the drought-affected region. But activists say it will lead to irreparable loss that will impact tigers in the reserve.
"They can find other ways of providing water to people. This project will destroy the park and thousands of trees will be cut. We will be complaining to the national green tribunal," says wildlife activist Ajay Dubey.
The 9000-crore project involves transferring surplus water from the Ken river to the Betwa basin. Activists say a 288m dam inside the reserve will also submerge a dozen villages affecting nearly 1,000 families.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan says his government will plant double the number of trees to compensate.
"We will have to adopt a middle path. We have to ensure that drought-hit Bundelkhand receives water and we have to save forest so we will plant double the number of trees," he said.
In 2009, the Panna tiger reserve lost almost all its tigers to poaching and has just recently been able to revive itself.
The state government is yet to conduct public meetings with residents of the villages that will be submerged because of the river interlinking project to discuss compensation.
Meanwhile, over 13 lakh people in the region who could benefit from it have welcomed the plan.
Among them is Avadh Patel of Jhamtuli village, who says he fetches water for drinking every day from a place that is two kms away from his house. "There is severe water crisis in our village. If the canal is constructed, water from the interlinking project will solve our problem," he said.
The ambitious scheme is being reviewed by the National Board for Wild life and it may soon hit another road block as activists are planning to approach the National Green Tribunal to complaint against it.
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