The Polavaram irrigation project has been in the midst of many controversies, and has been much-delayed since construction began in 2004. The previous TDP government had promised to complete the project by December 2019. With the YSRCP government coming to power, a lot has happened, including the cancelling of existing contracts and reverse tendering. On a recent visit to the project site, Chief Minister Jagan had directed officials to complete the project by June 2021.
On Wednesday, speaking to TNM, Minister of Water Resources for Andhra Pradesh Anil Kumar Yadav Poluboina said that this project – along with several others started by former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s Jalayagnam scheme – will be finished in the next two years. Here are excerpts from an interview with the minister:
Polavaram project works
After coming to power in May last year, the YSRCP government had cancelled the Polavaram contract with Navayuga Engineering Company Limited, alleging irregularities and corrupt practices. The government then called for re-tendering, and Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited (MEIL) was awarded the hydel power project contract in September.
Speaking about the progress in work since then, Anil Kumar said, “After the new contractor was chosen, we couldn't start work till November, because of the silting that had happened during the floods, cutting off the roads. We are now carrying out a plan that has been clearly chalked out till June 2020. After June, the plan will have to be revised,” he said, adding that the project is expected to be completed by December 2021.
He said that so far, the spillway is nearly halfway completed, with 1,12,000 cubic metres of work done and the rest expected to be finished soon. “By June, half the gates will be erected, and approach channel and spillway will be partly done. After June, we will have to assess the work left and draft the plan for the coming months accordingly,” he said.
Denying the allegations of bias in choosing contractors while re-tendering, he said that the government has saved Rs 780 crore in the process, which would not have happened if the contractor was gaining undue benefit.
Resettlement and rehabilitation works
Last year, with heavy rains leading to flash floods in the region, thousands of people living along the Godavari river had to be evacuated to relief camps. The YSRCP government had then blamed the construction work carried out by the previous Telugu Desam Party, saying the construction of cofferdam without completing the spillway had caused the heavy flooding.
Anil Kumar said that this year, the government is planning to rehabilitate around 15,000 people, upto the 41 metre level contour, to ensure that last year’s flood situation is not repeated.
Speaking about the remaining resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) works, he said that the works will pick up pace once the revised estimates for the R&R works are finalised by the central government.
Several cases of irregularities have been reported in the resettlement works that have already been carried out, including allegations of unfair compensation. Anil Kumar said that these cases are being addressed by the state government independently. “We have received nearly 9,000 grievances on issues like name change on land records, problems with Aadhaar cards etc. Around 5,200 such cases have already been addressed. In cases where people have been under compensated, they will be paid the additional amount by the state government,” he said.
With the heavy expected cost of the remaining R&R works, the state government is looking to the Centre for timely release of funds. The Centre is yet to reimburse Rs 3,200 crore worth of funds that the state government has spent on the project. Earlier, the central government had cited the reason that the state government had failed to submit audit reports for the expenditure made before April 2014, when Polavaram was declared a national project.
“The previous government had not maintained proper statements regarding R&R and various bills. We have done audits and the bills have now been sent to the Centre,” Anil Kumar said.
The state government’s priority is to finish the pending projects started by former Chief Minister and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Anil Kumar said. Apart from the Polavaram and Veligonda irrigation projects, this includes the Vamsadhara project in north Andhra, and the GNSS (Galeru Nagari Sujala Sravanthi Project) and HNSS (Handri-Neeva Sujala Sravanthi project) in Rayalaseema.
“These projects, which were started as part of Jalayagnam and have been moving at snail’s pace, will be fast tracked and completed within two years,” he said.
Jalayagnam is also one of the ‘Navaratnalu’ or nine major campaign promises made by the YSRCP prior to the 2019 elections. Jalayagnam was a large-scale irrigation project conceived by YS Rajasekhara Reddy. The program has also been heavily condemned by critics of YSR, who alleged that the project was designed to benefit contractors and construction companies.
Apart from the Jalayagnam projects, the state government is also working on increasing the capacity of canals to prepare for the flood season, he said. “Last year, we couldn’t draw enough water through we saw massive floods, because of the low capacity of canals. We are working on enlarging the canals, like the ones feeding Pothireddypadu reservoir, from 40,000 to 80,000 cusecs, to ensure that we take more water into our reservoirs this year,” he said.
Some reservoirs like Gandikota could not be used to their full capacity due to unresolved complications in R&R, and these issues will also soon be addressed, he said.
The government will also focus on irrigation coverage in the north Andhra districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam, apart from the diversion of Godavari waters into Krishna river, from the Polavaram dam into Banakacherla.
These projects are expected to cost the state government tens of thousands of crores. It remains to be seen how the projects will be funded, with delayed funds for central projects, and setbacks like the exclusion of Andhra Pradesh from the Atal Bhu Jal Yojana.