As Andhra asks Navayuga to exit, uncertainty prevails over Polavaram project's future

Observers and activists say that while criticism of the project may be valid, halting the works in progress could be an ill-advised move.
As Andhra asks Navayuga to exit, uncertainty prevails over Polavaram project's future
As Andhra asks Navayuga to exit, uncertainty prevails over Polavaram project's future
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The Andhra Pradesh government’s move to terminate the ongoing contract for the Polavaram irrigation project is being registered with apprehensions and misgivings by various groups. 

The YSRCP government, in tune with its decision to review all the projects taken up by former CM Chandrababu Naidu’s government, has issued a termination notice to Navayuga Engineering Company Limited over its contract for the Polavaram project. 

An expert panel had been constituted to look into suspected irregularities and corrupt practices in the Polavaram irrigation project. The panel had found flaws in the project’s execution, like slow progress which had not been penalised, and price escalations which had been accepted by the government. The state government is now expected to call for ‘reverse tenders’, where more bidders will be called to participate in a fresh bidding process. 

In response to the move, former CM Chandrababu Naidu tweeted, “Despite insults and accusations, we completed 70 percent of the construction. In spite of all this, if the remaining 30 percent is not completed, Polavaram will remain a dream.” 

A few activists and leaders feel that while there might have been malpractice in the project, cancelling the contract, even if temporarily, is only likely to cause further damage to the project. 

Yerneni Nagendranath, president of Andhra Pradesh Rythanga Samakhya says, “The job they (Navayuga) were doing was not so bad. Cancelling their contract creates uncertainties about the future of the project. So I feel continuing with them would have been better. They had bid 14% less in the EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract. They took up a spillway, which is a complex, critical structure. They made it cross a safe level, up to 13 metres. After that, the monsoon arrived, and the government changed. Now up to 6 months, it’s not possible to continue the work. We feel it would’ve been better if they were allowed to continue with the work.”

Senior politician and ex-TDP leader Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, who was a minister in NTR's cabinet, feels the project can be continued in some capacity, while the inquiry into corruption can be conducted simultaneously.

“Chandrababu Naidu was overly enthusiastic with the project and made unrealistic promises about the timeline of its completion. But stopping it entirely now is not correct. There’s some spillway work etc. going on, they should allow it to slowly continue. There is also around 40 km left to finish in the Polavaram left canal from YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s time. Works on highways and railways tracks have also been stalled, there’s no connectivity. All such works can be continued. In case any irregularities have occurred in the project in the recent past, inquiries should be carried out. But stopping the work altogether isn’t right,” says Rao.

Need to reprioritise projects 

Nagendranath points out the need to prioritise spending on projects. “We need to decide if the power block (in Polavaram) is truly needed. Because on the one hand, they’re saying there's no water. They’ll need to release about 1,80,000 cusecs of water to be able to generate power. That kind of water will be available for about 20 to 40 days a year, in the monsoon, when the demand for power is less anyway. In such a case, spending nearly Rs 4,000 crore to build a power block there needs to be rethought,” he says. 

He adds that if the priorities aren’t made clear, things may not move forward satisfactorily. 

Sobhanadreeswara Rao says that the objective of the Polavaram project, which is to divert about 80 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of Godavari water to Krishna delta, has been fulfilled because of the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Project.

“In north coastal Andhra, there are about 7 to 8 rivers like Vamsadhara, Nagavali, Mahendratanaya, Bahuda and others. The rainfall is around 1,000 to 1,150 mm per year. Because of the negligence of successive governments, the irrigation projects in this region were not completed. Thousands of small farmers from this region have migrated to other parts of Andhra and Hyderabad in search of livelihood. They should concentrate more on projects in this region and funds must be allocated,” says Rao.

Scarcity of funds

Nagendranath says that since the state is already in a financial crisis, completing at least a few projects would be a good idea. “Now they will probably give the contract to someone else. We don’t know how long it will take. Most projects in the state have been stalled. I feel they should at least take up a few projects and ensure their completion. Polavaram is an important project which needs to be completed soon. There’s no assurance that the new contractor will do a better job,” he says. 

Sobhanadreeswara Rao suggests that continuing with the present contractor could’ve also meant that the project could’ve been finished at lower costs. “The Navayuga people have taken up the work at rates fixed long ago. It looks like they thought they could make up for the loss through the Polavaram Hydroelectric Project (HEP),” he says.

TDP protests move

Gorantla Butchaiah Chowdary, Rajahmundry Rural MLA and senior TDP leader expressed concern that the present government is trying to bring all the development projects taken up by the previous TDP government to a standstill.

He also said that the YSRCP government’s decision to cancel the tenders and stop the Polavaram at this point of time would be a "boomerang” involving a very high cost.

“He (CM Jagan Mohan Reddy) is presuming that everything that happened in the Polavaram project was a quid-pro-quo, but nothing of that sort has happened. Such premature decisions (cancellation of tenders) will impede the project’s progress. We are not at all satisfied with the decision of the government. The reasons laid out are not at all fair,” Gorantla told TNM. 

He also said that cancelling of tenders would damage revenue sources of the government and impede new projects. 

Polavaram, which is estimated to cost Rs 58,000 crore, was declared a national project in 2016.

It is designed to bring an area of over seven lakh acres in coastal Andhra under irrigation besides producing 960 MW power, utilising 273,000 million cubic feet or TMC of water currently going waste into the sea.

With inputs from Charan Teja

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