<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union Environment Ministry has cleared the decks for the Ken-Betwa river linking project. The project plans to transfer water from Ken river basin in Panna tiger reserve, Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa river basin, Uttar Pradesh, for irrigating drought prone Bundelkhand.In its meeting on Tuesday the top body, that clears diversion of forests for infrastructure projects, reached a compromise with the union water resources ministry regarding certain riders it had recommended during its meeting last month. The climb down of the FAC, especially relenting on its recommendation to reduce the height of the project dam by 5m, came in the wake of a letter that water resources minister Uma Bharti wrote to the her colleague Anil Dave, on April 12.Soon after the letter, her ministry requested a special meeting with the FAC to ease certain riders the panel had recommended, which eventually happened on Tuesday.In her letter to Anil Dave, reviewed by DNA, Uma Bharti thanked him and the FAC for recommendation of the river linking project. But, she also expressed disappointment that the expert appraisal bodies of the environment ministry repeatedly flagged issues such as reducing the reservoir level by 5 metres from the total 288 metres, for reducing submergence of forest area in Panna Tiger Reserve.”I feel sad that this issue has been raised again and again in the meetings of the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC), Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).” She added, “Our experts have explained in great detail to the experts of NBWL as well as the EAC, to their full satisfaction, that in the case the height of the dam is reduced by 5 metres, the total irrigated area would be reduced by 1.16 lakh hectares in Bundelkhand region…which suffers from drought every year.”Further, Bharti impressed upon Dave that her ministry was committed to environmental concerns and exhorted him to clear the project. “We have made mandatory provisions of e-flows as recommended by EAC to ensure adequate water in the river for protection and sustenance of flora and fauna of the area. The project has acquired national importance at the highest level…therefore, I shall appreciate if the above concerns are duly factored in and a clear go ahead is give to us.”Bharti’s letter to Dave was prompted by FAC’s meeting on March 30. In that meeting, the FAC had expressed major scepticism about what it termed as “losses to the unique riverine forest habitat” of Panna. But, it had said that with no other alternative, it will consider recommending forest clearance with certain riders which included, among others, reduction in the project’s dam height, change in alignment of project canal and reducing felling of trees.Besides her letter, officials from Bharti’s ministry also gave a detailed written reply on the FAC’s recommendations, accepting some of them. This included considering all possibilities to realign the project canal to minimise use of forest land and agreeing to not fell more than three lakh trees, that are at a height of 4 meter below full reservoir level.To suggest more ways to compensate loss of forest, FAC has constituted an expert committee comprising of members from environment ministry, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai and water resources ministry.