Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti on Tuesday threatened to go on hunger strike if the Ken-Betwa river linking project is further delayed and termed the attempt to delay the project by environmentalists as a "national crime".
"The environment clearance for the project is delayed since December. I feel that delaying this project is a national crime.
"If the project is delayed further in the next expert committee meeting, I will go on hunger strike. It is a matter of 70 lakh people. We will not sit in front of the environment minister as he is with us," said Bharti.
"I don't want to blame the environment ministry for this. There is no dispute between me and Prakash Javdekar. The committee is an independent body under environment ministry. There is no political person in that body," she added.
A green panel, Experts Appraisal Committee, has said that the Rs 9,393 crore Ken-Betwa river interlinking project will impact "very significantly" the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, submerging an area of 9,000 hectares of the reserve.
The linking of the two rivers -- Ken in Madhya Pradesh and Betwa in Uttar Pradesh -- is aimed at giving relief to drought-hit areas of Bundelkhand. The project also envisages a dam on the Ken river near Daudhan village in Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.
The project, which was expected to take off in December last year, got delayed for want of wildlife clearances.
The minister further said: "If one linking project starts then we can show that river linking is not a dream, it is a reality. I don't agree that I am not in favour of tigers and vultures. I am a very environment-friendly person. An ecological balance has to be maintained for the sustenance of all.
"About 70 lakh people will get benefit from this dam. There are just 7,000 affected people. Even the affected people are welcoming this, then who are they (referring to the environmentalists) to stop this," Bharti added.
Bharti was also firm on not reducing the height of the dam, which is now proposed to be 77 metres.
"I will save the tigers, the vultures, the deer, and the affected people, please give us environmental clearance. But, I will not consider reducing the height of the dam. I will fight to take this project forward. With this dam the drought-hit areas of Bundelkhand and Marathwada will be benefitted," she said.
S. Masood Husain, director general, National Water Development Agency (NWDA) said: "There are three clearances, environment, wildlife and forest for any project. The clearance are given by three different committees following environmental procedures.
"The environment committee has maintained from the beginning that first we should get clearance from the wildlife committee. We have had four rounds of meetings with them and we gave them comprehensive reply. They just told us to get the wildlife clearance, only after that will they give the environment clearance," he added.
Husain further said: "In principle, wildlife clearance was given in the last meeting on May 10. In the next meeting, the issue with regard to height of the dam will be sorted, only then we'll get full clearance. The DPR of this project was ready in 2010."