July 27, 2014

Change of Design needed to Ensure Minimum Submersion & Maximum Benefits

M Babu Rao

THE process of bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh has turned the Polavaram issue into a more complicated one. The former UPA-2 government in its hurry to push the bifurcation bill had wanted to satisfy its own party leaders in Andhra area and therefore gave the national project status to Polavaram project. In 2009 itself, the then union government promised 10 district Telangana state including villages which would get submerged due to the project. The bill categorically stated that the submersion villages should be shifted to the residuary Andhra Pradesh. The Congress and the TRS leaders of Telangana area had also accepted this position and insisted on Bhadrachalam temple and village to be retained in Telangana. Thus, on June 2, the two states got separated. Now The BJP government at the centre has shifted the seven mandals (including non-submersion villages) to Andhra Pradesh through a presidential ordinance . This ordinance gave rise to many agitations on both sides, particularly in the villages of Khammam district that would be affected by submersion. The entire inundation area and the project site are in the Fifth Schedule area and the tribal communities in this area enjoy certain special rights and facilities as per the Constitution of India. PESA empowers gram sabha’s to use, maintain and ensure protection of natural resources and to resolve disputes among themselves. The land in that area should not be transferred to non-tribals as per 1/70 Act. The Samata Judgment of the Supreme Court considered the state government as a non-tribal partner in the Fifth Schedule areas. Hence the tribal people want the ordinance to be withdrawn and that their villages should be retained in Telangana only. Dharna, bandh and other kinds of protests were observed. Sunnam Rajaiah, CPI(M) MLA sat on an indefinite hunger strike for a week. The Telangana assembly passed a resolution to retain the villages in Telangana. On the other side, the Andhra Pradesh government led by the TDP and the BJP is demanding an immediate replacement of the ordinance by a bill and to amend AP Reorganisation Bill. The state assembly and council have passed a resolution to shift the villages to be affected by submersion to AP. The fact of the matter is that whether these mandals are in AP or in Telangana, the inundation is inevitable because everybody is for the Polavaram project. The dispute lies in its design only. The CPI(M) from the beginning has been suggesting that the design (including its height) should be changed and alternative designs by other irrigation experts should be considered so that there is minimum submersion and there could be maximum benefits (maximum ayacut, drinking water, power etc). But the government is going ahead with the corporate design without obtaining legitimate permissions that are required to construct a major irrigation project. They have already spent Rs 7000 crores for digging the left and right canals. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs 20,000 crores. We would be surprised if we look at the canals which are so large in width that they look like rivers to facilitate navigation activities. They do not look like simple irrigation canals. Caught between the two governments, the tribals and other poorer sections in the affected area are the worst sufferers. Their woes had started eight years ago – the government had stopped the sanctioned drinking water schemes, laying of roads and other developmental activities in the submersion areas. The Forest Rights pattas were not distributed in this area. The Polavaram project is a multi purpose project which has been proposed to be constructed across the river of Godavari, between the East and West Godavari districts. There is no impact assessment survey or report on this project. There is opposition also come from the environmental experts, irrigation experts and social anthropologists. At the project site, there is thin lithosphere containing sand and mud. Hence construction of heavy structures is not advisable. Papikondalu Wild Life Sanctuary is in this area; a large number of plant species would get perished. Konda Reddy is a PTG community which is endangered, and they would get completely extinct because of this displacement. A multi-disciplinary expert committee should be constituted which could re-examine the issues concerning Polavaram project. The BJP government has passed the bill in the parliament with its brute majority, ignoring the opposition Bhadrachalam assembly constituency has been vertically divided by the BJP government. The CPI(M) and its mass base is relatively strong in this constituency since the last 35 years. The Party has been winning this seat except for the last election. The tribal movement is also strong in this division. Hence the ruling class (BJP, Congress, TDP) wants very strongly to disturb the movement here.