Polavaram politics: Three states and 52,000 people seem indifferent stakeholders

The Polavaram dam project on the Godavari river, which is supposed to take India one step forward to resolving its water shortage, haunts at least three state governments, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, and at least 52,000 villagers — mostly scheduled tribes — in the 205 villages that are going to be submerged.

For, the Narendra Modi government — following the footsteps of NDA 1 and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in particular — has passed a bill on Monday for transferring the villages from Telangana’s Khammam district to Andhra Pradesh before they are submerged.
The Rs. 16,000-crore dam, straddling Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in the West and East Godavari districts, will have its reservoirs spread over Chhattisgarh and Odisha and link the Godavari basin with the water-deficit Krishna basin.
Power is the key
But the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, considered to be close to the Congress, is not keen on letting its villages be transferred and then flooded — all for a “distant dream” of linking water-surplus rivers of the Himalayas to the rain-fed peninsular rivers.
Several shutdowns were called at the district and state levels when the Narendra Modi government had brought an ordinance to transfer the villages that on Monday received Parliament’s consent. In Khammam alone, about 1.6 lakh people across 295 habitations will be affected.
Earlier, sensing trouble, the UPA government incorporated a clause in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, declaring Telangana as a consenting state and accorded the national project status to Polavaram.
K Keshava Rao, TRS parliamentary party leader, told HT: “We aren’t against AP utilising the Godavari water. But let there be an agreement first — through a meeting of the CMs with the PM — on how the project should be executed with no loss to anyone.”
But Andhra irrigation minister Devineni Umamaheshwara Rao said, “Their (the TRS) opposition to Polavaram is nothing but political.” Andhra, ruled by NDA constituent Telegu Desam Party, sees  — besides the political obligation — limitless goodies that the project could bring in.
The challengers
In fact, the Polavaram drama is being played out in two other theatres — Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
The BJP government in Chhattisgarh, despite the Centre’s keenness, has been opposing the project and challenged it in the Supreme Court. Although the agreement said the maximum water level in the submerged areas in Chhattisgarh’s Konta block in Bastar would be kept at 150 feet, the level could rise 177 feet or beyond.
Plus, the state claimed that there had been no estimate on the area to be submerged and the number of affected villages. No public hearing has ever been held before granting the environment clearance and no permission secured from the gram sabhas concerned.
The bill has put the Raman Singh-led Chhattisgarh government, too, in a fix. With all the 10 BJP MPs from Chhattisgarh, including the one from Bastar, now keeping mum on the bill, the Congress blamed the state BJP leaders for “compromising” on the interests of the people.
A senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be identified, said, “The move to clear the project through the bill has come as a surprise.”
But CM Raman Singh told HT: “We filed a civil suit in the Supreme Court since the Polavaram project also affects Chhattisgarh, particularly the Bastar region. I am going to take up this issue with the Union home minister for initiating appropriate steps.’
Red alert
The Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha has also been opposing the project. For, it would submerge 2,000 hectares and affect the tribal population in Malkangiri district, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
The state first moved the Supreme Court in 2007, urging it to scrap the clearances for environment and rehabilitation. It argued that public hearings had been held in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh, instead of Malkangiri.
In 2012, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik wrote to former PM Manmohan Singh: “The project will result in large-scale submergence in Malkangiri, a tribal district affected by Left wing extremism.”
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