Polavaram Dam Entanglement
Even as the ruling BJD in Odisha continues to oppose the construction of the Polavaram Irrigation Project, there has been zero impact on the project with the construction work has been put on the fast track and is likely to be completed if goes on at the present pace.
Why is the Rs 32,000 crore multi-purpose Polavaram Irrigation Project in controversy? Why is the Odisha Government making so much hue and cry over it? Why was no public hearing, as mandatory under Panchyats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 or PESA, is conducted in the affected areas under the jurisdiction of Odisha Government?
While, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Government in Odisha wants the project to be scrapped, certainly for the reasons seems not to be valid, the controversy has further snowballed with the BJD leaders taking the issue to the streets across the state while blaming the Union government for according all statutory clearances to the project even though the apex court is yet to come up with a verdict over the petition filed by Odisha and Chhattisgarh. While those who are at the helm of affairs in Odisha Government know a little about the project, it is remarkable to see the way the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has managed to make the Polavaram project (earlier known as the Indira Sagar project) an issue in the last 6-7 years. Even as the party called for 12-hour bandh in the southern Odisha districts of Koraput and Malkangiri in December last year to protest against the project, a large number of its MPs and MLAs don’t have genuine facts and figures about the villages to be submerged in Malkangiri district if the project comes up.
Vehemently opposing the project, BJD MLAs in winter session of the assembly claimed that about 13 villages and 6,950 hectares of land in Malkangiri district will be affected once the project comes up. Going a step ahead, Malkangiri BJD legislator Manas Madkami justified his party’s stand to oppose the controversial project saying 15 revenue villages and 10 hamlets in the district will be affected.
“We will not allow the AP-based project to come up as it will in no way help the people of our state.Why should we support the Polavaram Irrigation Project which would be beneficial for the people of AP at the cost of our people,” Madkami argues.
On the other demanding hand, construction of three barrages on river Saveri to ensure zero submergence in Malkangiri, Nabarangpur BJD M.P Balabhadra Majhi said that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured a delegation of BJD MPs who met him on December 17, 2015 to look into their demand. A section of the BJD leaders in the state also argues without any valid justification that 5,916 tribal’s including the Primitive Tribal Groups spread over 7,666 hectares of land in 26 villages will be displaced by the project.
Even as the ruling BJD in Odisha continues to oppose the construction of the Polavaram Irrigation
Project, there has been zero impact on the project with the construction work has been put on the fast track and is likely to be completed if goes on at the present pace.
Envisaged by the British in 1941, the Polavaram project remained in abeyance until 2004 when the then CM of Andhra Pradesh Rajsekhar Reddy revived it. At Reddy’s behest, in 2009 the UPA government led by Dr.Manmohan Singh declared it a project of national importance and quickly accorded all approvals including environmental and forest clearances. At the heart of the controversy is the proposed 150 feet tall earth and rock-filled dam with a gross storage capacity of 194.403 TMC is under construction straight across the Godavari river — the second largest river of India — some 15 kilometres north of Rajmundhry in the
east Godavari district in Polavaram village of Andhra Pradesh. The project is being constructed by Transitory (India) Ltd in collaboration with a Russian Company as per the agreement signed with A.P Government in 2013.
The Polavaram project will irrigate 7.2 lakh acre of upland agricultural land in the districts of Krishna, east and west Godavari and Visakhapatnam through two major canals and produce 960 megawatts of hydel power. The project will also result in the inter-basin transfer of 80 TMC of water from river Godavari to Krishna in A.P and 24 TMC
water to Visakhapatnam through left canal. Of the two canals, 80 per cent construction work of the right canal and 70 per cent of the left canal have been completed.
Disapproving all the claims by the Odisha Government while making the stand of Andhra Pradesh and Polavaram Project Authority,Chief Engineer (Quality Control)-cum-Andhra Pradesh Engineering Research Laboratory (APERL) and Superintending Engineer (Polavaram Project) V.S.Ramesh Babu told at Polavaram that the height of
the Dam as approved and designed by the Central Water Commission (CWC) to be put at 150 feet which will affect 97 per cent land under the jurisdiction of Andhra Pradesh only and only 3 percent in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Only, eight villages-Alma, Barribacha, Binayakpur, Kotaguda, Motu, Muraliguda, Peta and Pinamadiguda spread over 648 hectares of land in Malkangiri district will be submerged thereby affecting 6316 people including 913 scheduled tribe of 1002 families by the project in absence of protective embankments as per the Social & Economic Survey of 2011. In Chhattisgarh,only four villages – Dondra, Injaram, Konta, and Mulaksoli will be submerged affecting 11,766 people. Confidant Babu told that there will be zero submergence in both Odisha and Chhattisgarh with construction of the protective embankments for which the Polavaram Project Authority is committed.
On conducting ‘Palli Sabha” in the villages going to be affected in Odisha due to the project, Ramesh Babu disclosed that A.P Government had made 51 correspondence with its Odisha Government and the last letter was written on September 7, 2015 to member secretary, Odisha State Pollution Control Board equesting him to make necessary arrangements to conduct public hearings for construction of embankments along the river Saveri and Sileru to avoid submergence in the territory of Odisha, but there was no reply yet. Odisha government is left with two options of availing the lucrative compensation package as extended by the centre under the rehabilitation policy and construction of embankments on river Saveri to ensure zero submergence, Babu told.
Justifying the project, Polavaram TDP MLA Modiyam Srinivas Rao said the Government led by Chandrababu Naidu has overcome all the hurdles for the construction of the multi-purpose project by accelerating the land acquisition process by extending an attractive compensation package to the land losers in the jurisdiction of AP. The Chandrababu Naidu Government has enhanced the compensation from 1.5 lakh to about 9 lakh per acre. The government is conducting public hearing in all the villages to be affected and is extending monetary benefit to the people in AP thereby paving the way for completion of the project. The TDP Government is committed to completing the project by 2018. While the construction of the dam is on after obtaining all statutory clearances including the forest clearance by the AP Government, Odisha is left with two options, either demand compensation for the affected people or put forth the demand for construction of embankments over rivers Saveri and Sileru to ensure zero submergence. But for a canny politician like Naveen Patnaik, the Polavaram issue has come as a handy tool to whip up emotions on the Centre’s perennial neglect of Odisha. From writing umpteen letters to Prime Ministers to appealing to the SC, the BJD is keen to show that it is the only party which is fighting for the state — so what if its own leaders have little clarity on the issue.
By Kishore Kumar Dash from Bhubaneswar