Polavaram Project
The rush by the state govt to finish the long-delayed mega project raises questions about rehabilitation and resettlement procedures.

The rapid speed in the progress of the mega Polavaram irrigation project has become life-threatening for the people affected by the project, as many of them have not yet been assured of or received compensation.

The construction of the multipurpose irrigation project is likely to displace nearly 3 lakh people, out of which 50%  are tribals and 15% Dalits, while the remaining are OBCs, all of whose source of livelihood is agriculture.

On Monday, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu conducted a satellite review of the project.

Earlier in October, the Union Minister for Water Resources, Waterways, Highways, Shipping and Road Transport, Nitin Gadkari, assured the public at a meeting in Vijayawada that the union government will provide all necessary support to accomplish the project before the 2019 General Elections.

As the project gears up at massive speed, the recent review by CM Chandrababu Naidu suggests that as of November 6, out of 1,055 lakh cubic metres, 760 lakh cubic metres have been excavated, and 12.31 lakh cubic metres of concrete work is due out of a total of 16.04 lakh cubic metres.

In the same review meeting, the CM was informed that tenders will be released within this week for the appointment of another builder, for the concrete work in the spillway and spill channel, to speed up the works.

What seems to be a senseless rush by the state continues in Polavaram to finish the long-delayed mega project raising questions about genuine rehabilitation and resettlement procedures.

“We are hearing that they’re going to take up project construction on a war footing, but none of us has been given compensation. Whenever we visit the offices, they say they will compensate, but even officers are not sure whether we will get it,” says Elisala Nagaraju, a farmer who owns 5 acres in Gannavaram in Nellipaka mandal, East Godavari district.
 

Gannavaram village has as many as 600 families affected by the project, who now live in constant fear and uncertainty.

“If they want to finish it before 2019, let them… but we need to be given our due compensation of Rs 12 lakh per acre according to the R & R Act (Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013). Also, no rehabilitation colonies have been built, where do they want us to go?” Nagaraju asks.

Kunji Rama Rao of Tellavaram of Polavaram mandal, an Adivasi farmer who has lost his 4 acres of land, has a similar story: “Whenever we approach them they say we will get compensation, but even officials don’t know for sure.”

Terming the site selection for the rehabilitation colony unscientific, he laments, “A few days ago they came, selected an area for the rehabilitation colony and left… without even asking about our concerns.”

Kunji also added, “When he (CM) can know about the development of the project from the capital, why can’t he get to know about us. Even if he takes any steps to rehabilitate us that doesn't reach us.”

Tellavaram is one of the 338 villages in 9 mandals of both East and West Godavari districts which have been affected by the project, a prized one for past governments and the present one as well.

While they have been unable to voice their concerns, the affected people had their hopes pinned on the elected representatives. But thanks to the bifurcation of the state, at least six mandals lost their MLAs as they were merged into Andhra Pradesh while MLAs S Rajaiah of Badrachalam and T Venkateshwarlu of Ashwaraopeta were placed in Telanagana.

Thunga Ramesh, 28, a post-graduate from Kukunoor, says, “We don’t even have an MLA to represent our concerns in the house. Though our mandals were merged with other constituencies such as Rampachodavaram and Polavaram, we don't see anyone who can take up our cause.”

The Rampachodavaram MLA V Rajeshwari recently defected from YSRCP to the ruling party while Polavaram is represented by M Srinivas Rao who won on a TDP ticket.

While the state government has decided to hold the assembly session from 10 November, its opposition leader is on a Praja Sankalpa Yatra aimed at highlighting the failures of the government.

Speaking to TNM, Andhra Pradesh Congress spokesperson Kolanukonda Shivaji said, “CM Naidu is dealing with the Polvaram case ruthlessly. His government’s actions are challenging the 2013 Land Rehabilitation Act, how can they claim they're finishing the project without taking up rehabilitation in a due manner?”

He added, “This is a serious issue, as many lives are at stake. We demand the release of a white sheet on the project progress, and rehabilitation and compensation procedures.”

Vadde Shobanadreeswara Rao, former state agriculture minister, said, “Even if it is impossible to finish the project by 2018 as it involves constructing spillway and spill channel, he is eager to dub himself as the saviour of Krishna delta farmers by ignoring the rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected people.”

He added that it was “completely unfair and un acceptable.”