72 villages of Andhra Pradesh got submerged, some completely, this June because of the under-construction Polavaram dam.
- According to the experts, the Polavaram irrigation project, set to be operationalised by April 2022, will displace the largest number of people in India’s history of such projects Once completed.
- It will up-root 106,006 families across 222 villages in Andhra Pradesh.
- The backwaters might also displace 3,337 families in Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
- For every five acres (2.02 hectares) that will be irrigated by the project, one tribal family will be displaced
- Almost 80 per cent of the construction work of the dam is complete, yet only 20 per cent of families have been resettled so far.
- As per the project’s blueprint, the rehabilitation process will be carried out in two phases. The first phase that includes villages in low-lying areas (41 metres or less from sea level) is almost complete.
Concerns of the People of Andhra Pradesh
- Most rehabilitated families feel they have been alienated from their livelihood sources.
- There is another peculiar problem afflicting the fishing community. It is difficult to navigate through the waters which have submerged the villages. The inundation has also reduced the fish availability from 5-10 kg to 1-2 kg daily.
- The government began the rehabilitation process in 2006, by setting up model colonies which were supposed to be the blueprints for the subsequent ones. Even 15 years later, life is far from settled in these model colonies.
- Moreover, people in some of the colonies have had to pay to get the internal roads constructed after the contractor fled because of non-payment of dues by the government.
- Several people have been left out of the rehabilitation process.
- Another problem that the rehabilitation packages have fundamentally failed to address is that for most tribal families, the Godavari and the forests were an integral part of their everyday life, cultures and traditions.
- This point was also observed by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes team that visited some of the colonies earlier this year.
- The team found that none of the colonies were conceptualised with tribal traditions and cultures.
- Odisha is apprehensive that the construction of the dam by neighbouring Andhra and the spillway would result in the submergence of a considerable amount of its territory, including protected tribal areas.
- The State has further maintained that the Polavaram project on the Godavari river was in violation of the Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal award.
- It fears that proper environmental assessment and studies were not conducted on the backwater extent in the Sabari and Sileru parts of Odisha.
- The Telangana government has written to the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) seeking a detailed study on the spread of backwaters of the project, expressing fears that it could submerge a famous Rama temple near Bhadrachalam, a border town between the two states which lies on the banks of the river Godavari.
- According to reports, the Telangana government has sought details of the exact boundaries of areas that could be submerged by the Polavaram project to assess how the backwaters will affect a large region of land in the state.
- The issue, however, is far from new. Even during the agitation for separate statehood, now Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao would frequently whip up the regional sentiment to oppose the project, stating that it had been designed to tap into the Godavari river, only to benefit the Andhra region at the expense of his own state.
- Soon after the formation of Telangana in 2014, the Union government had merged villages under seven manuals of Telangana with Andhra Pradesh to facilitate the construction of the Polavaram project, despite opposition from locals in Telangana.
- The Telangana government has said that the project in its present form would hurt its interests.
- Pointing out that the Heavy Water Plant in Manuguru and ITC’s plant in Bhadrachalam could also be affected by the project, the state government has said that they were not against the project in principle.
- Telangana’s fear is that in order for the Polavaram project to maintain its Full Reservoir Level (FRL), it could cause submergence and inundation of entire villages in upstream areas, which fall in Telangana. It has also tried to get into the process legally, by moving court.
- The Centre had stressed that the project is important to the people of Andhra Pradesh as it would irrigate nearly three lakh hectares of land, generate hydel power with an installed capacity of 960 MW and provide drinking water facilities to 540 en route villages, particularly in Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari and Krishna districts.
- In 2011, the UPA government had asked Andhra Pradesh to stop construction work. However, in 2014, the NDA government declared it a national project.
- The project envisages the construction of an earth-cum-rock fill dam across the Godavari. The maximum height of the dam would be 48 metres.
NGT’s Consensus for the Project
The NGT on September 18, 2020 had accepted the report of four member Joint Committee comprising Central Pollution Control Board, Telangana State Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the District Collector, Khammam.
What did the committee recommended?
The committee had recommended that as per the interstate agreement on April 2, 1980 and final Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal award Odisha and Chhattisgarh have to give their consent and exercise either one of options for construction of protective embankment or rehabilitation of affected people.
Present Status of the Project
Though the Polavaram project is nearing completion and it is assessed that 6,316 persons in Odisha and 11,766 persons in Chhattisgarh will be affected but either rehabilitation or construction of protective embankments is only proposed and actual work is not yet undertaken by project authority since the states of Odisha and Chhattisgarh are yet to give their consent for either one of the options.
- State of Andhra Pradesh may pursue with the state of Odisha and Chhattisgarh and obtain their consent for either one of the options.
- Polavaram project Authority, GWDT and CWC may also look into the issue and assist the states in choosing the most beneficial & safest option among the two, the committee had recommended.