Updated: January 11, 2016 3:08:47 pm
For a project which Odisha’s ruling class knows little about, it is remarkable to see the way the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD)) has managed to make the Polavaram project (now known as the Indira Sagar project) an issue in the last 6-7 years. Even as the party called for 12-hour bandh last week in the southern Odisha districts of Koraput and Malkangiri to protest against the project, a report in a newspaper recently revealed that a large number of its MPs and MLAs had little idea about the project.
Envisaged by the British in 1941, the Polavaram project remained in abeyance until 2004 when the then CM of Andhra Pradesh Rajsekhar Reddy revived it. At Reddy’s behest, in 2009 the UPA government declared it a project of national importance and quickly accorded all approvals including environmental and forest clearances. At the heart of the controversy is the proposed 150 feet tall earth and rock-filled dam with a storage capacity of 551 million cubic metre to be constructed straight across the Godavari river — the second largest river of India — some 15 kilometres north of Rajmundhry in the east Godavari district.
The Polavaram project will irrigate 291,778 hectare of upland agricultural land in the districts of Krishna, east and west Godavari and Visakhapatnam through two major canals and produce 960 megawatts of hydel power. The project will also supply water to the Visakhapatnam steel plant. About 40 per cent work of the Rs 17,500-crore project has already been completed.
While the project is expected to bring economic benefits to Andhra Pradesh, the project backwaters are likely to submerge huge human settlements and forests along the Saberi River, a tributary of the Godavari, in the Malkangiri district of Odisha. The backwaters will also submerge villages of Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh along the Saberi river. The project involves relocation and rehabilitation of over 52,000 families in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
In Odisha’s Malkangiri district a population of 20,000 including STs and primitive tribes are likely to be affected but there is confusion on the number of villages that may be submerged. In October 2007, Odisha filed a suit in the Supreme Court against the AP government to restrain it from undertaking or proceeding with the construction of Polavaram project. Nothing has come out of the plea in the SC so far even as the AP government now wants to raise the height of the proposed dam from 150 feet to 180 feet.
Despite its environment and other implications it is unlikely that work on the project will stop as the Modi government is clearly ready to help Chandrababu Naidu in the completion of the project. But for a canny politician like Naveen Patnaik, the Polavaram issue has come as a handy tool to whip up emotions on the Centre’s perennial neglect of Odisha. From writing umpteen letters to Prime Ministers to appealing in the SC, the BJD is keen to show that it is the only party which is fighting for the state — so what if its own leaders have little clarity on the issue.
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