Telangana fallout: Scrap Polavaram, demand project-affected tribals

They oppose national status to the project under Telangana bill. Polavaram will benefit only Seemandhra and displace about 200,000 people, all in Schedule Five areas

By M Suchitra
Published: Wednesday 19 February 2014

The padayatra launched by the tribal people and activists, started soon after Lok Sabha passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, and will culminate in a maha dharna on February 22 outside the headquarters of Integrated Tribal Development Agency in Bhadrachalam

People in tribal settlements who are affected by the Indira Sagar Polavaram Project in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh have launched a padayatra on Tuesday noon. The march is in protest against a provision in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2013 passed by  Lok Sabha.

An amendment to the bill proposes to detach the villages in the submergence zone from Khammam district in Telangana (where they are presently located) and move them to the East Godavari district in Seemandhra once bifurcation of the state takes place.

Once the bill becomes a law, Polavaram project would get a national status. Activists, however, claim that the project is of importance only to Seemandhra region.

Demand for Gondwana state

The adivasi leaders are demanding that the Centre should immediately shelve Polavaram project and do away with its move to transfer submergence villages during bifurcation of the state. They are also demanding creation of another state of Gondwana, which will consist of the five Fifth Schedule tribal areas of the state and tribal areas of neighbouring Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

The march will culminate in a maha dharna in front of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) office in Bhadrachalam, on February 22, after passing through several villages in Chintur, Kunavaram and Bhadrachalam mandals, which are likely to be submerged if the project is completed.
Adivasis and other people from the submergence areas have been protesting against the project ever since it was first taken up by the state government in 2005 as part of Jalayagnam, Rs 1,86,000 crore ambitious irrigation programme.

Numbers tell the story

The Polavaram irrigation project is being built at the cost of Rs 16,010 crore in West Godavari district in Seemandhra region. The project will submerge 339 habitations, 91 gram panchayats and 216 revenue villages in Andhra Pradesh. Of these, 74 gram panchayats and 193 revenue villages and 264 habitations are in Khammam in Telangana. Most of the villages are located in Bhadrachalam Integrated Tribal Development Agency area while a few others are located in the East and West Godavari districts. The project, which will also submerge a few villages in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Odisha, is expected to displace about 200,000 people, the highest ever by any dam in the country. All the submergence areas fall within Schedule Five areas.

“The Central government is hell bent on constructing Polavaram project, unmindful of its disastrous consequences on the lives of hundreds of thousands of adivasis and is undermining the rights guaranteed to them under the Fifth Schedule,” says Punem Ramachander, state general secretary of Adivasi Samkshepa Parishad, one of the tribal organizations leading the agitation.

A majority of the people in the submergence villages belong to poor tribal communities such as Konda Reddy, Naickerpodu and Bhagata. The Konda Reddys are a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Most of these tribes are poor agriculture labourers or marginal farmers who make their ends meet by growing jowar, chillies, green gram and black gram, and collecting minor forest produce.

The dam has very little to offer to Telangana region. The project is expected to provide water for irrigation to about 300,000 hectares in East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Visakhapatnam districts, all in Seemandhra region. “More than half of the submergence villages have passed resolutions against the project which would rob adivasis of their land, water, forest and livelihood,” says Vattam Narayana Dora, convener of Polavaram Project Vyathireka Ikya Poratta Vedika, an umbrella organization of many adivasi groups fighting against the project. “The Central government gave national status to Polavaram in an effort to please Seemandhra leaders and the locals,” he adds.

Forest rights ignored

Adivasis in Khammam district don’t want to be relocated. At least half of the villages have passed resolutions against the project in 2005 itself. If the government goes ahead with the project, they want to be rehabilitated in the same district. The Andhra Pradesh government had identified a few villages to rehabilitate the projected-affected people in Bhadrachalam and Palvancha revenue divisions, “Now the submergence villages will be relocated to in one state and the resettlement villages in another state,” says P Narendra Kumar, another adivasi activist. He points out that in most of the submergence villages, adivasis have not received title deeds under the Forests Rights Act 2006 because of the project.

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