Ken-Betwa Project: A clear case of conflict of interest

Sharad Jain, the DG of the National Water Development Agency, which has initiated the Ken-Betwa river linking project, is also heading the Expert Appraisal Committee that has to clear the project

Photo by Dr AJT Johnsingh
Photo by Dr AJT Johnsingh

Ashlin Mathew

The Ken-Betwa river linking project, which has been mired in controversies ever since its inception, has landed itself in another one.

There’s been a clear case of conflict of interest with the same person heading both the organisation that is seeking permission for the river linking project and also the panel that approves the project.

Sharad Jain, of National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, is currently the Chairman of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects. Jain, in addition, also holds the charge as the Director General of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA). He has been holding this charge for nearly three months now.

An open letter submitted by 14 environmentalists to the Union Environment Minister states that it is a clear case of conflict of interest. The signatories include Brij Gopal of the Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia and Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

A number of NWDA projects come to EAC for approval at various stages. “One such project is Ken Betwa project, which the committee headed by Jain promptly cleared in very first meeting of the reconstituted EAC in December 2016. It was a few weeks before Jain took over as the Director General of NWDA,” says Thakkar.

“A person who is heading an organisation (NWDA), which has proposed the project, also heads a committee which clears the project. That is clearly a conflict of interest,” says Manoj Mishra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a consortium of non-profits working towards reviving the river.

“How can one expect that the EAC chairman would objectively and independently appraise a project of the organisation (NWDA in this case), of which he is the DG?” questions Thakkar from NWDA.

“Jain had overruled the issues that earlier four meetings of the original EAC had raised about this project,” Thakkar informs.

The EAC met again on Wednesday. The open letter had asked the EAC to review its decision to appoint Jain as its head. The EAC in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had recommended the project but the clearance letter hasn’t been given yet.

According to an EAC report, nearly 8,500 hectares of the Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh will be submerged due to implementation of this project. The conservationists and environmentalists have been mainly opposing the project, owing to its potential impact on tiger reserve and wildlife sanctuaries.

Irrespective of the media reports, the project will take more than a couple of years to even be passed.

“The National Board of Wildlife cannot give clearance for a project which is not in favour of wildlife. A case has been filed questioning this clearance by Bittu Sehgal of Sanctuary Asia,” Mishra says.

“Even the forest clearance isn’t final. The Forest Advisory Committee has put forth several conditions and recommendations in the first stage of clearance and the Centre can issue the final clearance only after the conditions have been met. These are stringent conditions and it will take more than 18 months for that,” he adds.

“All environment and wildlife projects have to be appraised by a Supreme Court-appointed Central Committee and that is yet to happen,” Mishra points out.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines