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Polavaram : A disaster on card సెప్టెంబర్ 30, 2010

Posted by Telangana Utsav in Andhra, Bhadrachalam, conflict resolution, corruption, Culture, Economy, Godavari, Gond, heritage, Khammam, Koya, livelihoods, Polavaram, politics, ST, Vishakapatnam.
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Polavaram: A disaster on card

Orissadiary.com, September 30, 2010

By Kishor Dash

The Multi-Purpose Indira Sagar Polavaram project, is still not rid of its troubles. While Andhra Pradesh government could manage to get all necessary clearances for its much ambitious Rs 17,500-crore, project and an assurance from the UPA Government at the centre that it would be recognized as a national project, it continues to be hit one roadblock or the other.

The latest in the series comes Odisha government’s fresh application filed in the Apex court seeking the quashing of the clearance granted by the Environment Ministry to controversial Polavaram project on the ground that it would affect the lives of thousands of people in its state due to the massive embankment being constructed by Andhra Pradesh. The matter would be taken up by the Supreme Court on October 4. Earlier, the state government has already filed a suit before the apex court challenging the construction of the multi-crore Polavaram project which it fears would inundate several parts in the Malkangiri district of the state.

Polavaram is a disaster on many counts, ecologically and politically for Odisha, and the Koyas and the Konda Reddis are the latest sacrificial lambs to the temples of modern India. For Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, the probity of the crusade unleashed by the ministry in the past few months hinges on the Polavaram decision. The Koyas and the Konda Reddis are besieged by questions of all kinds — land, livelihood, culture — but the Vedanta rejection has given way to a glimmer of hope. The Naveen Pattnaik government in Odisha says 28 villages in Motu tehsil, nine of them dominated by Koya tribes, will be submerged in Malkangiri district. “A population of 20,000 is going to be affected, which includes Scheduled Tribes and Primitive Tribes. As per the estimates of the state government, the project was likely to submerge 2119.38 hectares of land in Naxalite-affected tribal areas of Malkangiri district.

Andhra proposes to build an embankment to prevent these 10 villages from getting submerged. But that is unrealistic. The embankment has to be 30 km long and 45 feet high and has to be constructed inside Orissa. “Who is going to acquire land to build this wall? What is the environmental impact? Has any assessment been done? A bigger question is, if an embankment is built, where will rain and flood water go from Orissa’s side? It will end up flooding 100 other villages in Malkangiri,” says Suresh Chandra Mahapatra, Commissioner and Secretary, Water Resources Department, Orissa. Orissa is also upset that the environment ministry has cleared Polavaram when its own big-ticket projects, like Niyamgiri, weren’t.

In the mean time, anti-Polavaram movement has been intensified not only on Odisha, but also in Andhra Pradesh & Chhatisgarh with many environmentalists, social workers and NGOs have started opposing the project for manifold reasons.
Coming in the support of the Odisha government, many eminent environmentalists have turned their ire on the UPA government at the centre for being biased by Congress led government in Andhra Pradesh. They says that the Union Minister Jairam Ramesh in his letter to the Orissa Chief minister Naveen Pattnaik has stated that the Forest Clearance has been given to the Polavaram Project on July 28, 2010 is subject to the condition, “… no submergence and displacement of people including STs take place in Orissa and Chhattisgarh…”. However, this condition is in complete contradiction with the environment clearance given by the ministry on Oct 25, 2005, which says in para 2, “Total 1,93,35 persons are likely to be affected by this project, out of that 1,75,275 persons in Andhra Pradesh and 6,316 persons from Orissa and 11,766 are from Chattisgarh.”

This condition of no submergence or displacement in Orissa or Chhattisgarh is based on the proposal to construct embankments along the respective rivers in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. However, the proposal to construct these embankments was not part of the project that was given clearance by the ministry on Oct 25, 2005. This change in scope of the project came to light when the project went for CWC clearance (given on 23.01.2009 following flawed in principle forest clearance given by your ministry on Dec 26, 2008). Following letter from MEF, the Govt of AP applied for concurrence of the MEF for building embankments on 29.01.2009.

Then, there is the debate over the height of the dam. While Orissa and Chhattisgarh are objecting to the proposed 150-feet-high dam, Andhra says the purpose of the dam is defeated if it is anything less. The Rs 17,500-crore, multi-purpose Indira Sagar project in its present design is intended to irrigate 720,000 acres in coastal Andhra and 133,000 acres (through lifts) in the Khammam district of Telangana region, besides generating 960 Mw of power. The project has received all the requisite clearances, including a nod from the Union environment and ministry. About 32 per cent of the work has been completed.Next comes the question of “Gram sabha”. The AP government has claimed that gram sabhas have agreed to move, but the two tribes affected primarily — the Koyas and the Konda Reddis — have no memory of any gram sabha ever taking place.

“The present design could give water to 720,000 acres, while the alternative plan suggested by Hanumantha Rao,a retired Chief Engineer of A.P would only irrigate 250,000 acres. The displacement and submergence would be more if the alternative design is not accepted by the A.P government. More ever, every democratic principle has been violated in Polavaram, and as legitimate mediums of dissent evaporate, it is not unlikely that some would find the idea of armed rebellion appealing. In fact, it is inevitable. To reduce the displacement of more than 1 lakh tribals to the cold measurement of a few thousand hectares is to disregard them and their embryonic relationship with the forest.

“If they are displaced, the tribals face extinction,” says a village headman of Motu in Malkangiri. “They will become beggars because they know no other way of life, he added. The project, first envisaged by the British in 1941, has always been mired in controversy, including about its design and safety, tribals’ displacement, and environmental issues. It was recently embroiled in legal issues, with the state government in neighbouring Orissa moving the Supreme Court challenging a go-ahead given by the Union environment ministry. Orissa fears the project would flood several parts of the state.

Added to these woes were concerns raised by T Hanumantha Rao, retired chief engineer of the Central Water Commission, who submitted a representation to both the CWC and the A.P government seeking a change in the design of the project, especially the height of the dam. While there is no political opposition to the dam in Andhra Pradesh, environmentalists and human rights activists are opposed to it, saying it will displace more people than the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river. There are other worries too. The Central Water Commission had approved the design based on initial estimates that the spillway (the structure that provides the controlled release of excess water) could withstand 36 lakh cusecs of flood discharge. It was later revised to 50 lakh cusecs. But recent rainfall trends and flood history predict a peak flood of 80 to 90 lakh cusecs and that could wash the dam away, says T Hanumantha Rao, former chief engineer and UN consultant.

With the matter now in the courts, the debate will continue for a while. On Friday, the Supreme Court posted to October 4 a hearing on the Orissa government’s suit challenging the environmental clearance to the project.

Kishor Dash kkdash08@gmail.com

source: http://www.orissadiary.com/ShowOriyaColumn.asp?id=21470

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