Polavaram project
The Polavaram irrigation project has been a point of contention since the beginning, and the Centre’s missive has added fuel to the allegations.
File Image:I&PR (Andhra Pradesh)

In a fresh development that has added fuel to the allegations against the Polavaram irrigation project, the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has sent a letter to the Andhra Pradesh government: In the letter, the Centre has asked the state to reply to an RTI application on ‘Large scale corruption and illegalities in the execution of Polavaram Project’.

The letter was sent to the Chief Engineer of the Water Resources Department of Andhra, along with a reference by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Please find enclosed herewith PMO reference enclosing a letter of Shri J. Choudaraiah, Rtd Lecturer, Rajamahendravaram, East Godavari, Andhra Pradesh received from CPGRAMS Portal regarding Large Scale corruption and illegalities in the execution of Polavaram Project,” the letter said.

“It is requested that the case may be examined from your end and a suitable reply to the petitioner may please be sent, with a copy of the same endorsed to this office,” it further directed.

The letter also asked the Chief Engineer to treat the matter as a priority. Copies of the letter have been sent to the RTI applicant, J. Choudaraiah, a retired lecturer, and the senior joint commissioner of the central water resources ministry.

The letter has come as a shot in the arm for those protesting against alleged irregularities in the Polavaram irrigation project.

What is the Polavaram project

The Polavaram project is a major multi-purpose irrigation project being constructed on the Godavari River, and spread across three states – Andhra, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. A dam is currently under construction in West Godavari and East Godavari districts of Andhra.

The project will lift water from the Godavari River near Tadipudi village in West Godavari District and pump it through the Main Canal into the 20 TMC capacity Jalleru reservoir, and then supply water to West Godavari and Krishna Districts.

A total of 17,800 acres of land – 6,600 acres of forestland and 11,200 acres of revenue land – spread across 127 villages in four constituencies of West Godavari district – Polavaram, Chintalapudi, Gopalavaram and Denduluru – is being acquired for the project.

Read: Ground Report: How an irrigation project in Andhra is disrupting the lives of tribals, villagers

The state has said that the process of land acquisition is being done through the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

According to the Andhra government’s own estimate, the project will displace more than three lakh Adivasis in the area, and submerge close to 300 villages.

Various environmentalists and social activists have called it a ‘disaster in the making’.

The allegations of corruption

Speaking to TNM, EAS Sharma (IAS), an activist and former secretary to Union Government said, “As far as irregularities are concerned, the Pattiseema and Purushothampatnam irrigation projects aren't part of the Polavaram project, but the state government has claimed they are a part of it anyway in order to get funds.”

He added that while the Polavaram project itself doesn’t have valid environmental clearances, the other two projects weren’t even shown as individual projects.

The opposition has meanwhile alleged irregularities in giving contracts to construction companies for the project. Former TDP leader and ex-minister Vadde Shobanadreeshwar Rao said, "The massive favouritism and flaws in giving contracts to the construction company are well known. Even the CAG has shown the level of corruption.”

Shobanadreeshwar is referring to the CAG report of April 2017, where the Comptroller and Auditor General said that the rules were tweaked by the government to favour contractors in the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Scheme.  The CAG stated that the tweaking of rules and unnecessary change of design cost the exchequer Rs 321 crore and Rs 106 crore respectively.

Taking a dig at the Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, Shobanadreeshwar said, “It has to be kept in mind that there is a large difference between the work that has been done on the ground and the amount of money that is being shown on papers."