Explained: Telangana govt's main reservations against Andhra's Polavaram project

The Telangana government has sought a detailed study on the spread of backwaters of the project, which could affect areas in and around Bhadrachalam town.
A collage of Jagan Mohan Reddy and K Chandrasekhar Rao
A collage of Jagan Mohan Reddy and K Chandrasekhar Rao
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The Telangana government has written to the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA), which oversees the construction of the national irrigation project in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, seeking a detailed study on the spread of backwaters of the project, expressing fears that it could submerge a famous Rama temple near Bhadrachalam, a border town between the two states which lies on the banks of the river Godavari. According to reports, the Telangana government has sought details of the exact boundaries of areas which could be submerged by the Polavaram project to assess how the backwaters will affect a large region of land in the state.

The issue however, is far from new. Even during the agitation for separate statehood, now Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao would frequently whip up regional sentiment to oppose the project, stating that it had been designed to tap into the Godavari river, only to benefit the Andhra region at the expense of his own state. Soon after the formation of Telangana in 2014, the Union government had merged villages under seven mandals of Telangana with Andhra Pradesh to facilitate construction of Polavaram project, despite opposition from locals in Telangana.

The Telangana government has said that the project in its present form would hurt its interests. Pointing out that the Heavy Water Plant in Manuguru and ITC's plant in Bhadrachalam could also be affected by the project, the state government has said that they were not against the project in principle. Telangana's fear is that in order for the Polavaram project to maintain its Full Reservoir Level (FRL), it could cause submergence and inundation of entire villages in upstream areas, which fall in Telangana. It has also tried to get into the process legally, by moving court.

However, Andhra Pradesh has argued in the Supreme Court, asking it not to treat Telangana as a party in the case relating to Polavaram project. This is a national project being built by Andhra Pradesh across river Godavari, the YSRCP government argued, adding that Telangana has no right to raise objections to merger of villages likely to be inundated by the project.

The stand taken by the Jagan government in the Supreme Court in November last year, had come as another indication of growing differences between the Chief Ministers of the two states after the initial bonhomie which marked the ties soon after the YSRCP stormed to power in Andhra Pradesh in May 2019. Both state governments point to their interpretations of the provisions of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 to back their claims.

Jagan Mohan Reddy had earlier dumped Chandrasekhar Rao's proposal for linking Godavari and Krishna rivers to overcome water scarcity in parts of both the states. The proposal was mooted after a series of meetings between the two leaders.

Meanwhile, Jagan also faces another daunting task with the project — its funding. Last week, he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accord investment clearance for the Polavaram project's second revised cost estimate (RCE) of Rs 55,549 crore at the earliest, so that the project could be completed by December 2021.

Arguing that it was the Union government which should bear the cost of the project as per the AP Reorganisation Act, the Chief Minister mentioned that the original cost of the project as per 2005-06 price levels was Rs 10,151 crore, which was revised under first RCE to Rs 16,010 crore at 2010-2011 price levels, which was again changed to Rs 28,920 crore by the Revised Cost Committee as per 2013-14 price levels.

At a meeting of the PPA in Hyderabad, AP Special Chief Secretary (Water Resources) Adityanath Das, who led the state delegation, maintained that estimating the project cost at 2013-14 rates was not acceptable and opposed cutting down the Polavaram project cost from Rs 55,656 crore to Rs 20,398 crore.

The meeting was held in the backdrop of a recent controversy that broke out after the Union Finance Ministry sent an office note to the PPA, suggesting that the latter accept the revised cost estimate at 2013-14 price level, amounting to just about Rs 20,398.61 crore.

"The PPA and the Central Water Commission themselves estimated that over Rs 55,000 crore would be required to complete the Polavaram project. But now cutting down the project cost by more than Rs 30,000 crore is certainly not acceptable," the Special Chief Secretary said at Monday's meeting. 

In his letter, Jagan told the Prime Minister that any further delay would only further increase the cost of the project, which will do no good to the notional interests of a national project, essentially pushing the ball into the latter's court.

With IANS and PTI inputs

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