Polavaram: Andhra's lifeline hit by political roadblock

By Gaurav Saini R

Visakhapatnam, Apr 2 The Polavaram irrigation project, considered the lifeline of resource-starved Andhra Pradesh and a major election issue this time, has suffered a lot due to a long-drawn slanging match between the Centre and the state government, say officials.

Officially known as the Indira Sagar Multipurpose Project, it recently figured in election speeches of prominent political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

The project is expected to irrigate 2.91 lakh hectares, generate 960 MW of power, and fulfil the water needs of industries and 540 villages in Andhra Pradesh. But bureaucratic wrangles between the Centre and the state have dealt heavy blows to the much-needed PIP, the officials say.

Though the project had been under contemplation since 1941, the works started in 2005. The efforts to complete it gained momentum in 2015, following the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh, says V Sridhar, Chief Engineer of Polavaram Irrigation Project.

According to him, 68.31 per cent of the works have been completed and the rest will be finished by December 2019.

He says Naidu conducted 87 virtual reviews and visited the project site 30 times in the last three years. He reviews the PIP work every Monday, in keeping with his slogan "Polavaram on Somavaram".

The Centre declared it a national project in 2014. Since then, Rs 11,210 crore has been spent on it. The Centre has reimbursed Rs 6,727 crore to the state government, he says.

At a rally in Rajahmundry on Monday, Modi said Naidu was using Polavaram like an ATM to draw money from the Centre and was responsible for delays in the project.

Naidu hit back, saying the Centre was yet to reimburse Rs 4,500 crore the state government spent in spite of the financial crisis."The project is a defunct ATM," he said.

Earlier, Shah had alleged gross corruption in the construction of Andhra Pradesh's ultra-modern capital Amravati and the Polavaram irrigation project.

Last year, the Ministry of Water Resources had shot off a letter to the state government asking it to reply to an RTI on "large-scale corruption and illegalities in the execution of the Polavaram project".

Sridhar says "central agencies themselves are involved in the project. There's no chance of covering up corruption. Everything is in black and white".

One of the major roadblocks in the project is that a large number of the PIP-affected families have not been rehabilitated yet.

"Rs. 33,000 crore is needed for rehabilitation of 98,000 affected families. The dam cannot be complete unless the affected families are resettled," Sridhar says.

The cost of resettling the affected villagers was calculated according to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The state government has submitted the estimates to the Centre which is scrutinising them, the chief engineer says.

Naidu had earlier said Andhra Pradesh may stop paying taxes to the Centre if it doesn't provide funds for the rehabilitation work.

"The rehabilitation work has been completed to a certain extent. As and when the Centre gives the money, we will complete the rest of it. The central government will have to give the money. It is our right and is mentioned in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act. Modi is not doing us any favours," he had said.

According to officials, the release of funds by the Centre doesn't match the pace of the work at the project site.

They say the onus to rehabilitate the villagers is on the Centre, which had declared Polavaram a national project in 2014 and promised to bear the construction cost for the period starting from April 1, 2014.

The Andhra government has been directing a lion's share of its resources to the project, so much so that it has left no money to spend on its other flagship schemes, according to State Irrigation Minister D Umamaheswara Rao, who has rejected the charges of cost escalation.

According to the officials, the Union Ministry of Water Resources ordered to stop the work at the dam site twice. First, it questioned the need for a cofferdam to build the main dam and on the second occasion, it sought to know why the state government changed a contractor.

Odisha, Telangana and Chhattisgarh have also opposed the project, fearing that it may submerge populated areas in these states.

Recently, the Telangana government appealed to the Supreme court to review the environmental impact assessment of the project as the clearance was obtained in 2005.

Earlier, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had written to Modi to stop the project until “pending issues” are resolved. GVS ZMN

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