SCRAP POLAVARAM PROJECT — Corporate’s Polavaram Project Displaces Tribals in Four States

The powerful contractor – politicians of erstwhile Seemandhra (now Andhra Pradesh) were parceled out stretches of the proposed Polawaram project as ‘packages’ by the Chief Minister of then Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajshekhar Reddy of Congress. Now they are forcefully exerting for the project to materialize. The Congress led UPA-II Govt. finally conceded Telengana with one hand. With the other, it gave the Polavaram project the status of a ‘national’ project, thus projecting it as the price demanded by the people of Seemandhra for the re-creation of Telengana. It further sent an Andhra Pradesh Reorganization (Amendment) Ordinance to the President, seeking to transfer seven mandals of Khammam District of the newly (to be) recreated state of Telengana to Andhra, with the sole purpose of drowning all of them under the waters of the proposed dam. Its logic was that in this way the opposition to the project could be silenced.

The BJP led NDA Govt., immediately post its formation, issued an ordinance to the same effect, shrugging off the responsibility onto the previous Govt. Of course, no one believed this. The movement for Telengana clearly specified that it meant ten districts (including whole of Khammam with Bhadrachalam obviously) and with Hyderabad as its capital. The BJP was a Party which extended support to this movement and it obviously knows that exclusion of any part from the state was not the demand. Besides, the supporters of creation of Telengana always have opposed the Polavaram dam. But BJP, with this act, satisfied NDA member Chandra Babu Naidu who was acting on behalf of corporate and contractor politicians. It also satisfied its own position on the interlinking of rivers of India. In its first session of Parliament thus, it passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization (Amendment) Bill 2014 with 32 amendments, in the Lok Sabha without discussion and with the help of Congress in the Rajya Sabha. Introducing the Bill, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it was prepared by the previous Govt.

The people of Telengana are against the project and bitterly oppose the Bill. The people of Seemandhra did not oppose Telengana formation – The ‘protests’ projected die not intensify but stopped overnight when Telengana was formed. But the people of Seemandhra do oppose the Coastal Corridor project tooth and nail and it is for this that Polavaram is needed. In both houses of Parliament, the Trinamool Congress, the Biju Janata Dal and the TRS argued and fought against the bill. Now the Bill awaits the assent of the President of India.

A ‘National’ project of Corporate

The proposed Polavaram project is now a ‘national project, and it will be funded by the Govt. of India at a projected cost of twenty thousand crore rupees. (This is what has been gained for a project for which funding could not be found). But the word ‘national’ can also be seen in other ways. It is also national because it involves four states of the country. Telengana is vociferously protesting against it, and so is the Odisha Govt. Odisha and Chhattisgarh have petitions pending in the Supreme Court against the project, whatever the BJP led Chhattisgarh Govt. chooses to do now. On the 12th of July Telengana observed complete bandh against the transfer of seven mandals to Andhra and against the project. So also in in Odisha, on 14th July, a hartal was observed in four districts – Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagadha, and Navrangpur, called by the ruling BJD against the proposed dam. While the contractor politicians of Andhra are trying to manufacture an impression of satisfaction of Seemandhra people, while there is a media hype surrounding the supposed ‘benefits’ from the Project to the people of that state, the people of Andhra have bitterly opposed all steps towards making the ‘coastal corridor’ a reality. However the Naidu Govt. and to some extent the Telengana Govt. also seek to portray opposition to the project as one between the interests of the two states. The only supporters of the Project are the contractor politicians of Andhra and the corporate.

This project is also a ‘national’ one because it puts before the people of the country the need to formulate their opinion on the desirability of mega dams and projects. What actually is their relation to development of the people or is ‘development’ synonymous with corporate contractor interests?

Most importantly, this project is ‘national’ because it needs from us an answer about how this country should treat its tribal population, especially in the context of how it treated them in the name of ‘temples of Modern India’. Whose were the gods of these temples? Is it our intention to keep up these policies which have populated our cities with domestics from tribals of Jharkhand, with trafficking of their women and girls?

The contours of the Polavaram project and the issues it has raked up help to clearly formulate the questions around it, which people of the country need answer.

Amendment Against Constitutional Provisions

The Andhra Pradesh Reorganization (Amendment) Bill 2014 passed by Parliament in its current session is aimed only at facilitating the Polavaram project. It seeks to transfer all the villages of the Mandals of Kukunoor, Velairpadu, Burgumpadu, Chintoor, Kunnavaram, Vararamachandrapuram and Bhadrachalam (except the revenue village of Bhadrachalam with the temple town) to Andhra Pradesh. This is in violation of Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution that define the process to be adopted in case of transfer of territories from one state to the other. The amendment also violates Article 244 that provides mandatory process for administration and control of scheduled areas in accordance with the Fifth Schedule, which require consultation and approval of the Tribal Advisory Council in the state as all seven mandals are in scheduled areas.

The Polavaram Project – Transfer of Godavari water to Krishna Basin

The Polavaram project envisages a massive earth and rock filled dam with 44 vents across the Godavari river at the Polavaram village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The river here emerges from the last of the Eastern Ghats into plains with alluvial sandy soil. The river width here is 1500 meters. The highest point of the dam will be at 150 feet from the tip to the lowest point in the river bed. There will be two canals leading out of the dam. 80,000 million cubic meters of water will be transferred to Krishna Basin by the right canal. The water will pour into Budameru in Vijaywada which opens into the Krishna River upstream of Prakasham barrage.

The stated aims are to irrigate 54 mandals in four districts of Andhra Pradesh (Krishna, Vishakhapatnam, East and West Godavari) to increase agricultural production by irrigating 7.21 lakh acres. It will generate 960 MV of electricity. It will supply water for drinking to Visakhapatnam and other small towns en route. It will facilitate recreation and pisciculture. The right canal will be 174 Km long and the 181.53 Km left canal will go to Visakhapatnam District and connect with the Yaleur main canal. The water is to feed the proposed Vizag Kakinada Industrial corridor, five SEZs (one is Kakinada SEZ), two industrial parks in Kakinada and Peddapuram, an Apparel Park, a Pharma City, a naval establishment and also an atomic research station. The water will feed the Visakha industrial water supply project which will give water for 365 days to industries. The benefits of the water pouring into the Krishna for its riparian states is another subject of propaganda of Andhra Govt., with even postulation of drinking water supply to Chennai. The APIIC preparing for the industrial corridor claims to have already given 30,000 acres land to industrialists and further claims a land bank of 82,000 acres. This entails massive land acquisition and these are most likely all figures on paper as Coastal Corridor Industrial Project is being vehemently opposed by peasantry of Andhra Pradesh. However, no doubt it is very attractive for corporate.

The Polavaram Dam reservoir will drown 276 revenue (one revenue village has several tribal villages) villages of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, all in scheduled areas. There include 600 tribal villages in East Godavari district and Bhadrachalam area, 200 villages in West Godavari district. Of these, of the 524 villages from Khammam mandals , 363 went to E. Godavari Dist. And 161 went to W. Godavari Dist. Thus a total of 2.7 lakh people will be displaced from Andhra and Telengana taken together. Over 50% of those who will be displaced are tribals. The rest are other communities dependent on the forest and the scheduled castes. Around two lakh people will be displaced from the seven mandals of Khammam alone. The tributaries of the Godavari, the Sabari and the Sileru run along the Odisha Chhattisgarh border through scheduled areas. Eight villages or more of the Konta taluk of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh and four villages in Mota block in Malkangiri District of Odisha will also be submerged.

Embankments are not the Solution; Clearances Irregular

Interestingly the Forest Clearance of the Dam in July 2010 is conditional on making embankments so that there should be no submergence in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The govt. of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had suggested constructing a 30.2 km long protective wall in Odisha and a 29.12 km long embankment in Chhattisgarh. The earlier Environmental Clearance taken in 2005 neither mentioned the embankments nor the possibility of the submergence of land of other states. This discrepancy came to light in 2009 when the project got clearance from the Central Water Commission (CWC), hence the provision inserted in the Forest Clearance.

The Odisha Govt. opposed the embankments saying large reservoirs have been made on the Sabari and the lower Sileru. Water will flow from these into the Godavari river impacting the safety of the embankments. In 2011, the Central Govt. asked the erstwhile AP Govt. to decrease the height of the dam. However the reply was that then diversion of water to the Krishna delta would not be possible. In Odisha and Chhattisgarh, to date there has been no public hearing to determine the views of the tribals, no environmental clearance and no CWC clearance for the submergence. Even if embankments are to be made forest land for it will have to be acquired, but there has been no movement on these aspects. The heights of the embankments were supposed to range from 10 – 30 metres. There has been no assessment to gauge the maximum flood levels that could impact these embankments. Odisha also maintains that a large part of Malkangiri district will get inundated due to the project and that the flood assessment project was flawed. In Parliament in July 2014, BJD MP Bhartruhari Mehtab stated that his party was not against the Polavaram project but the arbitrariness with which the height of the dam has been increased. However he did give one new information – that not just a handful but 307 villages of Odisha and Chhattisgarh would be drowned due to Polavaram project.

Regarding embankments, experience in Bihar has amply shown that the water spills over to spread into the areas surrounding the embankments and inundates them, resulting in flooding. This leads to permanent water logging in these areas and therefore transfers the mayhem. It is no solution – the problems it will generate will aggravate the initial situation.

Among the other assets due for submergence are archeological sites as well as ancient forests in the mandals of Khammam which are the last of their kind here. The area is also part of the Singareni coal belt and large stretches of coal and other mineral deposits will be submerged. The Papikondalu Wildlife Sanctury will go under water. In the projected submergence area, cotton in grown in 10,000 acres, paddy in another 10,000 acres and tobacco in 6000 acres. Thus, valuable agricultural land of Telengana in Khammam will be submerged. Overall the estimate is that some 4000 acres of forest land will be destroyed.

In addition, the project lacks mandatory approvals including clearance for revised costs by Expenditure Committee, Central Electrical Authority clearance for power component and other several such technical requirements.

‘Cultural Genocide’ of Tribals; Environmental Disaster in the Eastern Ghats

Of the around three lakh populations which stands to be displaced from all the areas which will be submerged (2 lakh are from the seven mandals of Khammam alone) over 50% are tribals i.e. over one and a half lakh tribals stand to be displaced. Thus the Polavaram project is in violation of the National Tribal Policy which states that ‘Any project which displaces more than 50,000 tribal people should not be taken up’.

India is a signatory to International Covenants regarding protection of tribal communities and safety of their environment. Tribal life is intricately linked to habitat. To pick up a community and transpose it into another area destroys the tribal community and life. Thus habitat preservation is mandatory and the Polavaram Project will destroy the habitat of a massive number of tribals.

The Konda Reddy tribals are a primitive tribal community found solely in these forests. The Koya tribals (or Kandhs) inhabit these forest and also those of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. These are the two tribal communities primary in these areas. The natural habitat of the Konda Reddy tribe is going to be completely wiped out. The Koya tribes have already seen disruption and migration towards the Khammam mandals from Chhattisgarh due to the Central Govt.’s ongoing war against people in Chhattisgarh.

The tribal areas or scheduled areas of the country come under Schedule 5 of the Constitution. It is the responsibility of the President of India to oversee the rights of the inhabitants of these areas. The AP (Reorganization) Bill violates Article 244 of the Constitution which provides mandatory process for administration and control of the Scheduled Areas in accordance with the Fifth Schedule. The 5th Schedule also provides that no changes can be made in these areas without the consultation and approval of the Tribal Advisory Council of the state.

The Forest Rights of the tribals imperiled by the projected dam have anyway not been determined. For this, in the case of mining in Niyamgiri hills of Odisha, the Supreme Court ordered conduction of Gram Sabhas (palli sabhas) under the direct supervision of the District Judge. The AP Govt. (erstwhile) had falsely asserted in the course of getting Environmental Clearance in 2005 that gram sabha meetings have been held in the area. They have, of course, also not been held in the submergence areas in Odisha and Chhattisgarh either. When the Forest Rights have not been determined anyway, how would the issues of ‘rehabilitation’ and land for land be decided at all – it is another matter that the word ‘rehabilitation’ is pointless here as it cannot recreate habitat. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra, has grandly asserted that since the seven mandals of Telengana are now transferred, Telangana need not be concerned as rehabilitation is his Govt.’s work. He is wrong, way off the mark; not only the Khammam belt, but also for the tribals of scheduled areas of East and West Godavari Districts, whose habitats will be drowned, the President of India is directly concerned; the project is to be a ‘national’ one, so that the people of India have a direct responsibility to be concerned.

Both with the project as well as with the amendment just passed in the Parliament, a contiguous belt will be dismembered. Various committees including Bhauria Committee have recommended that administrative integrity of the tribal areas should achieved. What to talk of integrity, this entire population will be displaced and resettled in a new habitat absolutely unlikely to resemble their forest homes.

In February 2009, the Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee for River Valley and Hydroelectric projects directed the Andhra Govt. to conduct public hearings in both states , Odisha and Chhattisgarh, for the embankments. This was not done.

The Polavaram project is in violation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, which provides ‘land for land’ in command area for the affected people under irrigation projects and protection to ensure that ‘All benefits including the reservation benefits available to STs and SCs in the affected areas shall continue in the resettlement area’. It is also mandatory for obtaining prior consent of concerned Gram Sabhas or the Panchayats in the Scheduled Areas under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) 1996.

All these are the legal issues linked to the tribal population of the area. The other issues are equally serious and deserve equally serious consideration. This tribal population of Andhra, Telengana and also Chhattisgarh and Odisha will, at best, be uprooted, ‘rehabilitated’ by being given some place for housing, may be some land and some compensation ‘money’ whose value anyway they are usually at a loss to comprehend. Their lifestyle in the forest, their integration with the habitat, the integration of the women with the forest and the food sources and herbs it provides, their cultural integrity cannot be recreated. This is the experience of India over so many years, and the victims of those years are still scattered throughout India. The tribal women bear the heaviest end of the stick. At the time of the Kalinganagar struggle in Odisha, those who saw the surrounding area were witness to the ‘rehabilitation’ of tribals by other corporate who had built industries in the surrounding areas. Small sheds roofed by tin, with a few chicken roaming in the area, with the tribal women working as unskilled labour in nearby constructions, roaming erect carrying loads of bricks on their heads in the blazing sun. The cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities of the tribal population –a massive number- are at stake and their claim to the land and their forests must be upheld. There is no adulation for the ‘cave days’ involved here. The sort of ‘integration’ done in India leads to the worst patriarchal distortions of old tribal norms apart from rootlessness and other aspects mentioned earlier.

For what is it to be staked? For a massive project which will displace even more people than the gargantuan Narmada project (which displaced over 60,000 tribals), drown pristine forests and productive agricultural land in Telengana. Many small projects made across the Godavari can equally be used for power generation, for irrigation, without the massive displacement and destruction. But 20,000 crore rupees are much coveted; the fact that the dam is being championed by the very contractor politicians indicates the pressures involved. Chandra Babu Naidu, the current CM of Andhra Pradesh, in his earlier role as CM of the undivided state, was the ‘blue eyed boy’ of imperialism and is known for his service to corporate for whom he had put up the whole state for loot. The fact is that the entire question of the validity of massive projects is questionable and scientific use of knowledge allows use of natural resources without decimating natural habitats and assets.

For what else will it be staked? These facts are worse.

Irrigation Camouflage- Irrigating Irrigated Land

According to the claims relating to the Polavaram project, 7.21 lakh acres of land will be brought under irrigation in the four districts of Krishna, East and West Godavari and Vishakapatnam. Another   interpretation is that ‘irrigation will be stabilized’ in these areas. 129,000 ha are supposed to be irrigated by the right canal and 162,000 ha by the left canal ( 2.5 acres is one hectare). However the erstwhile AP Govt. has already built two lift irrigation projects parallel to the canal-Tatipuda and Pushkharam, that will irrigate around 161.874 ha of the total area supposed to be irrigated by the Polavaram project. The Chagalnadu lift irrigation scheme, the Torrigedda and the Yeleru schemes already irrigate more than 51,800 ha. Thus the major part of the projected area is already irrigated by alternative schemes. Around 80,000 ha or so land remains. These can be irrigated at drastically lower costs and by drastically smaller projects. Currently, the cost of ‘irrigation’ of each hectare of land, it is estimated, will be around ten lakh rupees, excluding the maintenance cost. According to E.A. S. Sarma, the cost of supposedly irrigating every five acres of land will be displacement of one tribal family.

Even the Govt. of India’s official data shows 71% of the right canal command areas as already under irrigation since 1999. The International Water Management institute based in Sri Lanka that studied the Krishna Godavari river link found that 95% of the area to be irrigated by the right canal was already irrigated; the rest 5% of the area was not under cultivation.

Rather, it is the Telengana area which needs irrigation. Having officially 50% of the joint state’s cultivated land, Telengana got only 32% of the state’s irrigation potential. Actually from the around 650 tmc surplus waters of the Godavari upto now, water needs to be allocated to Telengana using equitable water distribution. Small dams across the Godavari in Telengana area which will provide irrigation without displacement on a massive scale are the need of the hour.

Water is for Industry- The Powerful Capitalists of Andhra.

Irrigation is only a camouflage. The waters of the Godavari are actually being harnessed to provide an abundance of water to the ‘coastal corridor’ project being envisaged along the eastern coast including industrial corridor from Vishakhapatnam to Kakinada for the corporate and MNCs expected here. This corridor is to be served by the second port of Vishakhapatnam.

The people of Andhra have bitterly opposed the massive land acquisitions that are preliminary to the project. The fragile ecosystem in the Eastern Ghats, one of the finest in the world, is at stake. The fisher folk of Vishakhapatnam fought tooth and nail against the second port constructed there endangering their livelihoods. The peasantry of Srikakulam fought and gave their lives to prevent thermal power stations from devouring their lands. The people of Nellore, Guntur and Prakasam districts have opposed land acquisitions for corporate.

The fact that is vital to understanding Polavaram is that the corporate of Andhra Pradesh is the fastest growing group of big capitalists in the country. One study says ‘The latest generation entrants into the political arena emerged in the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh in the late 1990s and these are predominantly industrialists and businessmen who have sought to promote their business interests by entering the political arena and leveraging political power for their own profit.’ (Hegemony over Politics and Power, Vijay Burgula and others) It further states, ‘Capital formation by the Seemandhra leadership over the last three to four decades has been built on state resources and specifically from Telengana resources with the help of the politician – bureaucrat- legal nexus. Since 2000 especially, infrastructure work in the form of government contracts have been overwhelmingly awarded to Seemandhra contractors with political connections. The importance of government civil construction works in the accumulation of capital by the Seemandhra capitalists is borne out by the fact that 27 out of the top 30 infrastructure companies in India are from AP and not one of these is from Telengana.’

Who needs the Polavaram project? It is needed for water supply for the industrial corridor primarily, with its projected SEZs, its chemical and apparel parks and the continual water supply for 365 days to the Vishaka Industrial hub. It is the capitalists, the corporate, who actually stand to benefit, the contractor politicians of Andhra and the people of Andhra Pradesh who will be among the losers. But the ruling politicians and the Naidu Govt. are trying to manufacture opinion in Andhra in favour of the project .They desperately project its ‘national’ stature as a victory for Andhra not for themselves and they hide its role for the coastal corridor and mask it as needed for irrigation in Andhra.

Flood Threat Misrepresented

The environmental clearance of the Project is based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). However several issues have come to light since this was carried out. In 2006 the Central Water Commission (CWC) changed its flood situation estimate. The Polavaram Project went by the Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) level of 1,02,000 cubic metre per second (cumecs) for designing the spillway. The National Institute of Hydrology of the Ministry of Water Resources of the GOI found that if the dam bursts the peak flood will be of 1,98,200 cumecs. “Based on recent rainfall trends and flood history, a peak flood of 254,000 cumecs is a reality. This will wash away the dam”. This is the opinion of T. Hanumantha Rao, former chief engineer of AP Govt.

Further, in 1986 and 2010 Bhadrachalam town was innundated and the valley flooded by floods in Godavari. If the Polavaram reservoir is full and flood waters come from the Indravati and Pranhita rivers and the dam gives way, the Godavari delta towns and the Aurthur Cotton Barrage will be threatened by flood waters.

Corruption Rampant, Clearances Pending

In addition the project is plagued by corruption costs. The costs have escalated many times over. The tenders for the dam head works have been cancelled time and by the A.P. High Court due to corruption allegations. The project also lacks certain mandatory approvals and clearances, but of course these can be all stream rolled over by a sold out Central Govt.

Interlinking of Rivers

The Polavaram dam is part of the national water linking project under Ministry of Water Resources and was designed for water redistribution. In this case, Godavari is considered to have a water surplus basin and the Krishna a deficient one. The 2008 the estimate was that 644 tm cft of unused water flowed down the Godavari to the Bay of Bengal. Thus this is a project corresponding to the outlook of both the BJP and the NDA Govt. It devastates the people, the environment and ecology and affects the riparian interests of the states.

Are Concerns Purely ‘Academic’?

The proponents of Polavaram project, and they are powerful, are quite clear about how they classify the criticism of his project. They say that the unused water of the Godavari flood the East Godavari District every year. They say it is not only downstream states that need to bother about upstream states; the upstream states also have a responsibility to the downstream ones. They scorn the ‘purely academic concerns’ who worry about, “few thousand hectares of farm lands and forests”. A specific complaint is against Odisha and Chhattisgarh having agreed to a hydroelectric project at Konta earlier. The contention is that the land submergence due to that project would have been much more than under Polavaram Project but the states were agreeable.

The issue can be resolved scientifically. More use of the Godavari water upstream will solve the problem of flooding downstream is the argument. The fact is that Govts. of erstwhile AP paid little heed to the development of irrigation facilities of Telangana region. Telengana must plan and fully use its share of the waters of Godavari far more effectively for the use of the people. This was one of the arguments of the need for Telengana formation.


About half a century or so ago, the power of man in harnessing the environment, breaking up mountains, exploiting mineral resources as though there was no limit, building massive projects, were all aspects of asserting application of science to use nature for human development. But there is gradual realization that development is class specific and the tribals and indigenous people, the poor, the scheduled castes have been sacrificed at its alter. There is growing appreciation of the finite nature of natural resources, of the need to apply science to preserve the environment. There is development in using science for common good without entailing devastation and displacement. There is urgent need for peoples’ movements to defend the tribal people, ecology and natural resources against those classes whose vision does not extend beyond furthering their own plunder. The Polavaram Project should definitely be scrapped and its status as a national project should be revoked obviously. The coastal corridor project must be withdrawn. Small dams across the Godavari should be urgently constructed to harness water both to irrigate Telengana and if necessary to augment the irrigation in Andhra.

The hurry with which NDA govt. rushed the Bill, showed utter contempt for people particularly tribals. It also showed corporate continue to call the shots in Delhi.