It is striking that people see both the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls in this natural wonder in Madhya Pradesh, yet so few people know about it. (Image by Himanshu Thakkar)
It is striking that people see both the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls in this natural wonder in Madhya Pradesh, yet so few people know about it. (Image by Himanshu Thakkar)

“Oh my god! I wouldn’t have believed that such an amazingly beautiful river canyon existed in India had I not seen this!” These were my first words, believe or not, on seeing Raneh Falls earlier this year. It was such a mesmerisingly beautiful scene that I could not believe no one had even mentioned that this whole site was likely to be destroyed by the proposed Ken Betwa Project (KWP).

In fact, there are an amazing number of untold stories of the destruction that the proposed Ken Betwa link will cause. One of them is the story of Raneh Falls. The name is a bit of misnomer, but let us stick to it.

Having seen Grand Canyon of the US when I visited it in September 2011 as part of a four week India-US Exchange visit, I was immediately struck when our local guide said many foreigners call it India’s mini Grand Canyon. Later, I read on the web that others also call it India’s mini Niagara, since the 30 m high (98 ft as per Madhya Pradesh government website) waterfall is here is one of the highest and best of India. It’s striking that people have seen a replica of two different wonderful places of the world at one place, but so few people know about it. The depth of some of the craters in this 5 km long canyon is said to be upto 60 m.

The beauty of Raneh Falls

It is located on Ken River, about 25 km downstream of the proposed Daudhan Dam of the KWP, to be constructed inside core area of Panna Tiger reserve. Between the proposed Daudhan Dam site and Raneh Falls are the existing Gangau and the Bariyarpur Dams, both over 100 years old. Raneh Falls is about 6 km downstream of Bariyarpur Dam. About 5 km downstream of the Raneh Falls is the Ken Ghariyal Sanctuary, which is another untold story of destruction due to proposed KWP, but let us reserve it for another occasion.

When we saw it in May 2017, there was practically no flow in Ken River, whatever little water the river had was diverted by the Bariyarpur Dam just about 6 km upstream from Raneh Falls.

According to Wikipedia site for Raneh Falls, “The Ken River forms a 5 kilometres (3.1 m) long, and 30 metres (98 ft) deep canyon made of pure crystalline granite in varying shades of colours ranging from pink and red to grey. There is a series of waterfalls in the canyon… The Ken river here runs through a narrow gorge of igneous rocks rich in Granite and Dolomite.” In the photos accompanying this blog I have tried to capture the beauty of this place in a modest way.

Another website says: “This canyon is formed of igneous rocks rich in Granite and Dolomite. But actually there are five types of igneous rocks here and it is said that no where else in whole Asia 5 rocks together at one place. See for different colours in photos. Green ones are dolomite, there is red coloured Jasper, brown quartz, pink granite and black basalt.”

There are Youtube videos showing how the Falls look in monsoon and other seasons. Parts of Kamasutra, a famous Indian film was shot here, we were told.

Government of Madhya Pradesh Tourism Dept website has only these words for Raneh: “Ken River forms a 98 ft high gorge in the crystalline granite, giving you varying shades of pink and red to grey.”

Disappointing, incomplete environmental impact assessment

KWP EIA is silent about impacts. IT mentions Raneh Falls on three pages:

P212: “Among all falls, Raneh fall in Chattarpur district is the deepest (30 m) waterfall in the river. The north flowing river Ken is comparatively calm and slow in velocity in the downstream. The river substratum in the up and midstream segments consists of bedrocks and boulders, while pebbles, sand, silt and clay are found in downstream.”

P564 repeats the same sentences as on P 212.

P592 has a gem: “Approximate height of the fall is 30 m. This indicates that the proposed dam height would not be a severe barrier in distribution of fish species, because the fishes are already circumventing the existing natural barriers like Raneh Fall.”

It not only shows poor knowledge on part of the EIA consultants of the hydrological flows of Ken River through the Canyon, but also their poor knowledge of fish behaviour.

The the EIA mentions nothing about how the KWP will affect the Raneh Falls, in different seasons. The impacts are likely to be severe and varied, considering that there will be almost no water flow through the Canyon in most of the months and possibly sudden heavy silt free, hungry water going through the canyon in flood season. The silt free, hungry water has much greater damage and erosion potential. But the EIA of the KWP has not a word on the impact of the project on Raneh Falls, though it is within 6 km of the project boundary. This project boundary extends upto Bariyarpur Dam, since it is key infrastructure for the KWP irrigation component.

The EIA thus completely violates its own notification. The meagre environment flow that the EIA report provides is not based on any assessment of the requirement in the downstream area.

Poor state of India’s national geological monuments

I was pleasantly surprised that India does have a policy for identifying and protecting National Geological Monuments, but was disappointed to learn that there is no seriousness about it. Geological Survey of India website says: “Indian subcontinent exhibits imprints of varied geological processes through ages and is a storehouse of interesting geological features. Geological Survey of India has already enlisted some of those locales as National Geological Monuments… Geological Survey of India has undertaken the responsibility of protection and promotion of such features and has declared 26 such sites, located in different parts of the country, as National Geological Monuments.”

Unfortunately, the GSI website does not provide any information as to how these sites are selected or even a list of the 26 selected sites and what is being done to protect them. A Wikipedia site provides this list, but there is no site from the entire state of Madhya Pradesh, among many other states.

The state of these sites, as per INTACH report of March 2016, is deeply disappointing: “Unfortunately, beyond declaration as geological monuments little else has been done to protect these marvels of the nature. The survey carried out for this report shows that most of the sites are lying forlorn and desolate and may well be lost to the country during the course of ‘development’.”

Possibly the only remaining hope for this mesmerisingly beautiful Raneh Falls is at the door of Judiciary.

The author is the coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. This article originally appeared on his blog.

Himanshu Thakkar is a coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.