Naidu's fight with water ministry may reach PM's ear

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu has sought an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week to register his protest against the Ministry of Water Resources which is allegedly blocking the replacement of the existing contractor of the Polavaram irrigation project across Godavari near Rajahmundry.

If the PM doesn’t give appointment to sort out the issue, which is fraught with electoral implications to TDP, Naidu, according to sources close to him, is thinking of not only raising the matter, but also allowing his MPs to interrupt the proceedings of the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament that begins on 15 December. “We will storm the House,” TDP MP J.C. Diwakar Reddy told The Sunday Guardian.     

Keen on completing the prestigious project before the 2019 general elections, Naidu wanted to replace the present contractor, Transstroy, with another contractor who can meet the timelines. But the Water Ministry which reviewed the issue on 25 October, shot down the proposal to change contractors on the ground that it would lead to further escalation of costs, delays and legal complications. Interestingly, TDP is a constituent of the ruling NDA and Transstroy belonged to TDP MP Rayapati Sambasiva Rao.  

Differences between the Centre and the state have risen after the Water Ministry found that there had been a huge jump in the cost of the project from around Rs 15,000 crore to Rs 45,000 crore in the last three-and-a-half years. On 29 May 2014, the NDA Cabinet passed an ordinance to merge 300 villages from seven revenue mandals of Khammam district in Telangana with Andhra so that the displacement problem won’t affect the project. In a special package to Andhra, the Centre in June 2016 announced that the Andhra government would be given the responsibility of construction and that it would reimburse the money to the state.

Since then, Naidu has set up a cell in his Chief Minister’s office and started monitoring the progress of construction every Monday. Till now, the state has spent about Rs 14,000 crore and the Centre has reimbursed to the tune of around Rs 6,500 crore. Naidu set a deadline of December 2018 for completion of spillway of the project so that it can be showcased to people as its achievement before the 2019 elections.

However, for the past three months, Naidu was unhappy with the pace of work of official contractors Transstroy, who bagged the contract in 2012 by then Kiran Kumar Reddy-led Congress government in AP. The contractors had run into financial and legal issues with around half-a-dozen sub-contractors and there is little scope for completion of the project before 2019 polls.

Transstroy and the sub-contractors had different versions for the delays and financial wrangles. Transstroy has lodged a complaint with the Union water resources minister on Naidu’s plans to remove them. The Ministry of Water Resources told CM Naidu and AP Irrigation Minister Devineni Uma Maheshwara Rao that it was not desirable to change the contractors at this stage as financial, logistical and legal implications are involved. However, the Ministry of Water Resources promised to put pressure on the existing contractors to speed up works to meet 2019 deadlines.

However, as there was no improvement in the works from Transstroy’s end, the AP government on 19 November issued fresh tenders for a clutch of works costing around Rs 1,460 crore. Again Transstroy objected to these tenders and complained to the Water Ministry. Based on it, Union Water Resources Secretary Amarjit Singh wrote a letter to AP chief secretary Dinesh Kuamr on 27 November, directing him to stop the fresh tender process as well as attempts to dislodge the existing contractors.

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