Uma Bharti
Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Uma Bharti addressing the National Conference on "Preserving Rivers in India," in New Delhi on 25 June, 2014. (A file photo)PIB

Pushing for the Ken-Betwa river linking project, which has been stalled for months, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said on Tuesday that she would start a hunger strike if the wildlife clearances are not given.

Bharti, who was addressing a press conference on Tuesday, blamed the delay in permissions on independent environmentalists who are part of a committee constituted by environment ministry's National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The project requires clearances from the environment ministry and forest department as it would submerge at least 7 percent of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

"I consider causing delay to the project as national crime. I am not saying it's a treason, but it indeed is a national crime. Because you are denying livelihood for 70 lakh people," Bharti was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India.

She also added that Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar was in favour of the project, and blamed the independent environmentalists in the committee for the delay. 

The project, which will cost Rs. 9,000 crore, is expected to irrigate Bundelkhand, which has faced drought for several years.

The committee after assessing the damage that would be done to the ecology of the Panna forest asked the Water Resources Ministry if the height of the project could be reduced as it would affect nesting habitat of vultures.

"I will not consider any reduction in the dam height...The project is getting unnecessarily delayed due to environmental activism," Bharti said at a press conference on Tuesday, according to the Hindu. "The dam will be built and if there are further delays I will launch an agitation with the several thousand thirsty inhabitants of Bundelkhand and Marathwada."

The PTI quoted her as saying that she would go on a hungerstrike if the committee further delays the project.

"We have asked the Bombay Natural History Society to help us with the vultures and the reforestation plan will actually help the tigers too...People however must come first," she added.

As part of the project, a 288-metre Daudhan dam will be created. As much as 4,141 hectares of the Panna Tiger Reserve will be submerged.