Centre flouts norms to allow Polavaram construction to resume

Mandatory public hearings are still pending in Odisha and Chhattisgarh

By Suchitra M
Last Updated: Friday 31 July 2015
Photo: Richard Mahapatra
Photo: Richard Mahapatra Photo: Richard Mahapatra

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has once again allowed the Andhra Pradesh government to resume construction of the controversial Indira Sagar Polavaram project, a multi-purpose mega irrigation project in West Godavari district.

In a letter dated July 3, 2015, Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar informed Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu that the Centre had done away with a stop-work order issued in 2011. The decision of the ministry was in response to a letter dated April 25, 2015, sent by Naidu seeking a go-ahead.

The environment ministry has also issued an executive order in this regard. A similar order allowing work on the Polavaram project to continue was issued on January 1, 2014, for six months.

The latest letter is an extension of the order issued in 2014. Activists allege the government is trying to complete the Polavaram project through repeated extensions. 

The ministry's decision comes even as public hearings on the impact of the project are still pending in the neighbouring states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. These hearings are mandatory under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Some villages in these states will be submerged once the dam is completed. The ministry has also ignored the fact that Odisha and Chhattisgarh have separately approached the Supreme Court against the project, and that the cases are pending in court.

Javadekar’s letter said the ministry was allowing construction for one year anticipating that issues related to the public hearings would be resolved through discussions.

Costly Polavaram

The controversial dam is expected to irrigate about 300,000 hectares (ha) of agricultural land in Andhra Pradesh and generate 960 MW of power.

It will cause more than 300 villages in West Godavari and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh and some villages in Odisha and Chhattisgarh to be submerged. A majority of these are tribal villages.

According to a 2010 estimate, the dam will displace more than 200,000 people, the highest ever by any dam in the country. The dam will also cause submergence of 3,500 ha of forest land.

The project was estimated to cost Rs 16,010 crore in 2009-2010. The figure was recently revised by Andhra Pradesh and is now expected to cost Rs 26,000 crore.

The Polavaram project was given national status during the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to form the new state of Telangana. In fact, most of the villages that were expected to be inundated were located in Khammam district of Telangana. To make things easier for the project, the Centre transferred these villages from Telangana to Andhra Pradesh through the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014.

Flouting of norms

Conducting public hearings in connection with a proposed project is the responsibility of the respective State Pollution Control Board. But in the case of the Polavaram project, the Centre has, in its executive order, asked the Andhra Pradesh government to ensure that public hearings take place in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The ministry has also asked Andhra Pradesh to submit the outcome of the public hearings.

"During the first three to six months of this period of one year, the government of Andhra Pradesh shall ensure public hearings are conducted in the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha and submit the outcome of the public hearings to the environment ministry," says the order.

The Andhra Pradesh government has, on its part, assured the Centre that it will make changes in the design and operating parameters of the project, if necessary, based on the results of these hearings and carry them out in consultation with the Central Water Commission (CWC). However, it does not explain how it proposes to change the design of a project slated for completion in March 2018. 

Odisha and Chhattisgarh are reportedly in the dark about the decision of the ministry.

Fresh gram sabhas on compensation

To complete the work on a war footing, the government is trying to resolve all rehabilitation issues. Residents of the project–affected villages are staging protests for fair compensation and rehabilitation as per the norms under the The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

"The compensation paid by the government for the lost land and assets was very low under norms fixed years ago," says G Anil Kumar, director of Integrated Tribal Development Society (ITDS), a Polavaram-based non-profit engaged in securing better packages for those affected.

On July 27, Polavaram project's special collector, B Sudarsanam, conducted a special meeting with the residents of  a few project-affected villages and promised to hold a fresh gram sabha to discuss issues related to compensation, says Anil Kumar.

In May this year, Sudarsanam had requested the irrigation department to allow him to pay more compensation than is permitted under the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, for early completion of the project.

To resolve all compensation issues, the government has amended rules for payment of a higher compensation than permitted under the rehabilitation and resettlement Act of 2013. The amendment permits the district collector to initiate negotiations with the people and arrive at a mutually agreeable and reasonably higher compensation package than that provided under the 2013 Act.

Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government at the Centre. In a significant political move last month, the Naidu government dropped the word "Indira" (which stands for late prime minister and Congress leader Indira Gandhi) from the name of the project, changing the name to Polavaram Irrigation Project.

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  • Indira Sagar [Polavaram] Project: It is a multipurpose project constructing across the River Godavari near Polavaram village about 42 km upstream of Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage at Dawaleswaram. -- Around 3000 TMC of water on an average per year from Godavari River is joining the Sea. Justice Bachawat Tribunal awarded around 1480 TMC per year to undivided AP and equal amount of flood water but undivided AP is using only 25% of the total allocations. -- This is an irrigation-cum-electric power project. The Polavaram project has been under consideration since 1941. This project was cleared by Justice Bachawat Tribunal in 70s along with the interlinking this with Krishna River [rivers inter-linking] by transferring 80 TMC. Both Orissa & MP Chief Ministers signed in 1978 & 1980 on 150 ft dam height with no submergence in their states. Here Central government has given in writing for 150 ft height of the dam – this was verified by Supreme Court Team with reference to case filed by Orissa government. To avoid submergence, in October, 1979 proposed 10-30 ft height karakattas of 30.2 km in Orissa and 29.12 km in Chattisghad – AP government [undivided] agreed to pay Rs. 600 cores as cost. CWC gave clearance in 2009 for karakattas and in 2010 forest clearance was given with a condition there should not be any submergence in Orissa & Chattisghad. In 1978 August 4, AP, Karnataka & Maharashtra agreed on transfer of 80 TMC. Where is the illegality in Polavaram project???

    The Project was cleared [EC] under EIA Notification 1994. As per this, AP conducted public hearing in AP at five places. Later with the hue and cry, AP government agreed to finance public hearings in Orissa & Chattisghad as AP cannot conduct public hearing in other states. They failed to do that. As per EIA Notification 2006, in such scenario MoEF [Bangalore office] can initiate action by giving notice to the respective governments and if they fail execute the same, after 45 days MoEF [Bangalore office] on its own can conduct public hearing. They did not do it as the then minister Jayaram Ramesh was playing political game. Here, whom we should blame??? Why blame AP government for the lapses of the Central and the two state governments???

    To placate political game should AP stop constructing the project indefinitely??? In fact by this time in normal course of action, Polavaram project should be ready.

    In any irrigation project, small or big, displacement takes place invariably. Under federal system, it is the duty of central government to get clearance projects of downstream states, though irrigation is a state subject. In the case of Polavaram Tribunal has cleared, the upstream states signed for the execution of the project but now people are playing political game and helping the water to go as waste in to the Sea.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy | 4 years ago | Reply