Tragedy of Media Errors – Ken Betwa River Linking Project

What is happening?

News reports with updates on the government’s plans to interlink Indian rivers have been surfacing on a daily basis. Most reports however, appear to have given up on the idea of exercising any caution or due diligence. This particular piece was triggered after encountering a bunch of articles published in the Indian media on 1st September 2017. All articles come with the same headline and exactly the same text, seemingly syndicated from a Reuters’ report [1]:

At Veditum, we’re interested in how policy, governance and public debates come together around various topics of environment and culture in India. We even have our own homegrown projects around rivers, attempting to get the actual stake holders of the river into mainstream conversation. So we decided to keep an eye on the public discourse on this topic that was being created through the medium of news outlets. There has been continued mis-reporting and misrepresentation by media houses and ministers (within the parliament as well)[4] on this topic, and today’s article by Reuters made us think about putting together this piece. Here we are going to stick to recent reports and announcements, and a detailed timeline based analysis will be taken up in a subsequent piece.

 

The Reuter’s report makes various claims, but does not share proof of anything, much like most of the articles on this topic that have been published in the past few months. What is comical, is that reporters use the same language of ‘the project being held back by environmentalists’, with no reasoning awarded to why the project is even a viable solution with supposedly assured results. From where we stand today, the Ken-Betwa River Linking project itself, will take at least a decade to complete after spending INR 18,000 crore rupees according to current market rates.

An exposed and beautiful Ken riverscape, June 2017.

Due diligence? Not so much.

After discovering today’s reports, we asked the more experienced folks for their inputs. During the day, Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, called up the journalist in-charge of the Reuter’s report and later shared his experience through a Facebook post, quoted here:

“I called up the journalist who wrote it, I told him the Env clearance does not exist, final forest clearance does not exist, conditional Wild Life Clearance is under scrutiny by CEC to be followed by SC scrutiny and inter state agreement between MP and UP does not exist. The recommendation of Env Clearance (the actual EC letter is yet to be issued, see the attached screen shot of MoEF’s EC website) is no longer valid since both Forest and Wildlife clearance recommendation are conditional to taking the power component out of the forest/ protected area, but the EC recommendation is for the power component of the project remaining inside the forest/ protected area. The Project does not even have any public hearings in the canal and downstream affected areas, as required and the EIA by AFCL is one of the most flawed, dishonest impact assessments.

I told him he could have checked these facts from the concerned ministries or others who keep track of these things, before publishing the report. He had not. He said he will try to find out about reality of clearances from the ministry.

He said they worked on the story for a month, I said in that case, they should have checked the claims about clearances, when you had so much time.

The only defence he had was that clearances are CLAIMED in the Cabinet note and he asked me, will the govt claim clearances in cabinet note if they do not have? I told him, of course, as per Free Press Report quoting sources from MoEF, the WR minister has in fact misguided the Parliament, the Cabinet note is not even a statutory document.

From Himanshu Thakkar's facebook.

A dried up river in the downstream region (UP) of proposed dam.

A dried up Ken river in UP, downstream of proposed dam site, June 2017.

What can we do?

The Reuters article is still live on their website, with no clarification being offered by the media house or the journalist, even after informing them of the issue at hand. What this has resulted in, is widespread sharing of misinformation with the masses and manipulation.

None of the required clearances are available on the websites of the ministries, so we do not see how this project can kickstart in the next one month. Apart from the clearances and legal challenges that lay ahead, there currently exists no mutual agreement on the water sharing treaty between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh without which this project cannot go ahead. [6]

If you find any such articles which are misreporting, please write to these media houses with questions, and request them to withdraw these articles with clarification. We’re adding links to all such articles on a list, so you can see what’s going wrong and where. Know any more such articles? You can add using the following form (click on image below to go to form or use this link – https://goo.gl/forms/uzCbRuqUYmVFspIO2) or email information to contact@veditum.org, we’ll add it to the list (Link to see list – https://goo.gl/DgjXba) :

Misreporting - River Linking Projects - India - Submit Link

As an aside, we’re creating a fact check collective for environmental news in India, interested? Write to us at contact@veditum.org. Appreciate the work? Donate to keep us going – veditum.org/crowdfunding.

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