Posted on September 2 by SANDRP
New Delhi – On Sept 1, 2017, Reuters published a report[i]about Interlinking of Rivers, with focus on Modi flagging off work on Ken Betwa Project. The report was carried VERY widely, including in local, national and international media. [This note was sent as a letter to a number of persons at Reuters and Thomson Reuters on Sept 2, 2017, there has been no response so far as I publish these several hours later.]
Unfortunately, it’s a biased, very misleading, erroneous report with factual inaccuracies that one does not expect in a Reuters report.
Immediately on seeing the report, I had called Mr Mayank Bhardwaj, the Reuters reporter who filed this report and tried to explain to him how erroneous the report was, but I did not see any encouraging or confidence inspiring response from him. So I had circulated a note (see at the end of the article below) on Facebook and on a couple of e-groups. The note was circulated with the attached screen shot that shows that the Ken Betwa Project DOES NOT have environment clearance. Below I have listed a few of the important inaccuracies or misleading portions of the Reuters report.
The report says: “Around half a dozen clearances, including on environmental and forest protection, have been obtained for the scheme to link the Ken and Betwa, according to two sources and documents seen by Reuters.” This is factually incorrect claim and the Ken Betwa Project DOES NOT HAVE either Environment Clearance Letter or Final Forest Clearance Letter. Whether the project has final environment and forest clearance letters, as required by law, is a matter of fact that can be verified from the right websites, the concerned ministries or those who follow such projects, say like SANDRP. (if you would like to see how consistently SANDRP has been writing about this Ken Betwa Project, see our blog and search for Ken Betwa: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/). It’s clear that the reporter has not done any of these and just reproduced the claims by his sources and the cabinet note that reporter was shown. As explained to the reporter by me, these are not matters of claim, but matters of fact, if the project has the necessary clearance letters or not.
In fact, there are so many complications and contradictions between conditions of forest and wildlife clearance vs environment appraisal details, that, as I explained to the reporter, (and you can see these details on our blog) that the project cannot get these clearances anytime soon. I am not going into these details here but would be happy to explain if you want.
The report says: “Modi’s cabinet is likely to give its final go-ahead for the project within a couple of weeks, sources say, after which he will flag off construction at the site about 805 km (500 miles) from New Delhi, currently marked only by rows of red concrete slabs placed on the ground.” This gives the impression that the project is ready to take off after cabinet gives its go ahead in a couple of weeks. THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG CLAIM. The project cannot go ahead without 1. Environment Clearance (EC) letter, which is not yet issued. 2. Final forest clearance (FC) letter which is not issued. 3. The wildlife clearance letter is under scrutiny and litigation before Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court (SC) of India and then it will be followed by SC scrutiny. 4. Implementation agreement between the project states of MP and UP, does not exist, since there is no agreement about even basic aspects as to how much water each of the states will get, see TOI report on Sept 2, 2017[ii](but this issue was in public domain for long.) 5. The EC and FC are open to challenge before NGT (National Green Tribunal) once these letters are issued since the project did not have either proper public consultation process nor credible environmental impact assessment.
All these are matters of facts, available in public domain. To give an impression, under this situation that the construction can flag off once Cabinet clears it is not only factually wrong, gives a totally wrong impression, but it possibly plays into the hands of the vested interests.
The report says: “The river-linking projects was first proposed in 2002 by the last BJP-led government. Work stalled because state governments sparred over water sharing contracts and clearances got stuck in India’s notoriously ponderous bureaucracy.” Firstly, on Facts. ILR (Inter Linking of Rivers) project was NOT proposed in 2002. It was proposed way back in 1980 and then NWDA[iii](National Water Development Agency) was set up in 1981-82 to start studies about it. The reporter is right, the Water Sharing agreement between MP and UP is still NOT there for this project, but the reporter does not know this! What the reporter then says about “clearances got stuck in India’s notoriously ponderous bureaucracy” shows how little knowledge he has either about the clearance processes or how little respect he has for prudent environment governance. The fact is India’s MoEF is not particularly known to be an environment conscious ministry and has 100% clearance track record on dams and river valley projects. Ken Betwa project came to MoEF for EC in 2015 and was cleared in 2016, in fact after Union Water Resources Minister Sushri Uma Bharti threatened to go on protest if the project is not cleared soon! I wish the Reuter reporter was serious enough to go into the details of these processes and try and understand what goes on there.
The report says: “Authorities say they have planned for the safety of tigers and vultures.” Again in stead of reproducing the claim of the authorities, the reporter could have found out if the Environment Management Plan is ready and what it constitutes. He would have found out that the EMP is still being formulated and in fact, the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF had earlier asked for an independent review of the EMP once it is done! About vultures, of course, there is no EMP, nor there is any for Gharials or Fish or the Ken River.
The opinionated very first line of the report, “After years of foot-dragging… ” is itself problematic. It seems the reporter wanted the project so badly to go ahead and was disappointed that the govt was foot dragging against his wishes! This also shows lack of understanding of the processes involved in decision making for such projects.
As I told the reporter, most of these are matters of facts and not claims or views and one expects Reuter reports to be correct about facts that are available in public domain, rather than reproducing the claims of the authorities. Particularly when the subject is so important, one expects the reporter to take the trouble of verifying the facts from right quarters. This has clearly NOT happened in this case.
I can go on with other problematic aspects of the report, including many on facts, including the cost of the project mentioned in the headline, but I will stop here.
The Trust Principles of Thomson Reuters[iv]that I just saw says: “Customers across the world depend on us to provide them with reliable and objective news and information. This means that we have a special need to safeguard our independence and integrity and avoid any bias which may stem from control by specific individuals or interests.”
Unfortunately, the report does not seem to follow any of these principles, as does not make efforts to provide reliable, objective and factually correct news and information, and the whole report is heavily biased in favour of a specific high investment project that the government of the day wants to push, representing specific interests.
I hope Reuters will take appropriate action in this regard.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org)