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Nature of Opposition to the Polavaram Project

Despite the considerable damage that the Polavaram project is going to cause, the state government refuses to listen and the mainstream political parties at best remain ambivalent. Here are the reasons why it is necessary to take an unambiguous stand on the project.

Nature of Opposition to the Polavaram Project

Despite the considerable damage that the Polavaram project is going to cause, the state government refuses to listen and the mainstream political parties at best remain ambivalent. Here are the reasons why it is necessary to take an unambiguous

stand on the project.


ndira Sagar, the Rs 8,000 crore gigantic dam proposed at Polavaram in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, promises to transfer 80 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) water to the Krishna basin via a 174 km long right canal and to Visakhapatnam district via a 181.53 km long left canal. The project, it is promised, will irrigate 7.21 lakh acres in Krishna, Godavari (East and West) and Visakhapatnam districts, and generate about 960 MW of electricity. These wild promises notwithstanding, the project will destroy the lives and livelihoods of tribals and destroy the little development achieved in their habitats so far. The stance of most mainstream and radical political parties is ambivalent and marked by attempts to compromise with the government of Andhra Pradesh. Against this backdrop, we activists in the area are writing

this paper to explain why we believe that it is necessary to take an unambiguous stand against the project.

The Polavaram project must be opposed. In what follows, we outline the reasons for opposing the project.

Numbers Tell the Story

(i) Over 276 tribal villages in the agency areas of East and West Godavari districts and Khammam district are expected to be submerged. (ii) According to the 2001 Census, 2,37,000 people will be displaced.

(iii) As many as 53.17 per cent of the displaced will be tribals. Tribals and dalits account for 65.75 per cent of the displaced. (iv) The natural resources, cultural systems, traditional knowledge, of all these people are closely tied to the land they inhabit. With the loss of the land, minor forest produce, tubers, leaves, indigenous medicinal systems, common

Economic and Political Weekly April 15, 2006 property resources that support human population and livestock, etc, the very existence of these communities, will become unsustainable.

Denial of Constitutional Rights

The land resources of the scheduled tribes are being rapidly depleted by the government, which has the constitutional responsibility to protect the tribals. The displacement will mean, deprivation of the privileges and protection guaranteed to the STs under the Vth Schedule of the Constitution with reference to Article 244 and other allied articles for constitutional governance, tribal protective Land Transfer Regulation 1 of 70, legal principles of tribal self-rule envisaged under Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act 40/96 (PESA) and State Act of 7/98, provisions to smooth and speedy administration of civil justice under AP Agency Rules 1924, AP Scheduled Area Money Lending Regulations 1960, AP Scheduled Area Debt Relief Regulations and administrative orders conferring magisterial, administration powers on tribal development authorities, etc.

Skewed Distribution of Benefits

(i) Constructing the dam is for the benefit of the developed plains areas of East and West Godavari, Krishna and Visakhapatnam districts, industrialists and civil contractors, in neglect of underdeveloped tribal areas which are home to tribal and non-tribal small farmers. (ii) Deprivation and displacement of the tribals will support the enrichment of the already irrigated lands and developed segments of society. It is also important to note that most of the submergence area falls in the backward Telangana region while the benefits will go to the relatively better off farmers in the Andhra region. Why should tribals and poor people sacrifice their lives and livelihood options for betterment of such segments?

(iii) Surplus waters of Godavari will not reach the dry lands of agency areas of Andhra region or even the upstream dry lands of Telangana. According to the 1991 Census, 37.89 per cent lands in the state are irrigated but in the tribal areas it is no more than 13.13 per cent. Unequal distribution of water to regions results in regional disparities and economic imbalances.

Poor Economics

(i) According to the GoAP, the benefit cost ratio of the project is 2.89:1. Actually, the project will result in thousands of crores of loss.

(ii) The costs of the project projected by the GoAP do not include the following: the net present value (NPV) of the produce from 3,223 hectares of forest land, large amounts of money over the years invested by the GoAP, the World Bank and the central government in 276 submergence tribal villages in the name of tribal development and created infrastructure, the value of biodiversity, the cost of rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced people, and the cost of funds to be spent on the displaced, costs of land acquisition and the mineral wealth that is lost. If we take all the above into consideration it becomes clear that the project will result in a much larger loss than the cost shown now. The benefits of the dam are grossly overrated and the economic, social, ecological costs underrated.

The state government has to pay for loss of the forest wealth which is to be paid to the union government by way of compensation as per the decision of the latest Supreme Court judgment. The NPV of loss of forest cover of 3,223 hectares resulting from the Polavaram dam, works out to be Rs 296 crore.

(iii) Uncalculated amounts of both major and minerals including quartz, mica, laterite, bromite bauxite, granite and other minerals will be lost forever.

(iv) About 7.21 lakh hectares will come under irrigation. But actually, projects like the Pushkara, Tadipudi, Chagalnadu lift irrigation projects already provide irrigation to 4.26 lakh acres of lands out of the estimated 7.21 lakh, via lift schemes. Pushkara, and Tadipudi canals will be running parallel to and along the same contour alignments as the proposed Polavaram canals. Hence Polavaram will only provide water to an additional

2.95 lakh hectares. Polavaram will actually result in the submergence of over 97,000 acres of irrigated land. Pushkara and Chagalnadu projects cost only Rs 800 crore to provide water to

4.26 lakh acres. The cost of the project is therefore much higher than is being projected. Experts say that lift irrigation projects to provide 80 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet water to the Krishna river will not cost more than Rs 2,000 crore.

(v) The GoAP is not being honest when it claims that the project is designed for farmers’ welfare. It appears that the project is designed to enable navigation connectivity between Chennai and Visakhapatnam ports, as also tourism, and other industrial development projects.

Tribal Land Question

  • (i) Thousands of acres of land in the scheduled areas have been alienated despite the existence of tribal land protective laws like 1/70 Land Transfer Regulations. Now the GoAP itself is going to displace tribals and alienate land in the scheduled areas.
  • (ii) The GoAP’s claim in its rehabilitation and resettlement report that there are no tribal land disputes attracted under Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 70 in the submergence areas is false and anti-tribal.
  • (iii) In many submergence villages tribals are cultivating ‘banjar’, ‘poramboke’ and other forest lands. The GoAP has not yet issued them pattas for these lands. Where there are no pattas, tribals are going to lose land but cannot claim compensation. In the 94,357 acres of land subject to submergence there are 29,852 acres poramboke lands. Poramboke lands are recognised only as government lands. Tribals cannot claim compensation for these lands.

  • (iv) GoAP officials who have not completed restoring tribal lands already alienated or ensured entitlements in favour of tribals, who are in possession of such lands, have begun to negotiate with the non-tribal settlement pattadars about compensation.
  • (v) Thousands of tribals have reclaimed their lands alienated from non-tribals over the years and have been cultivating them. Many of these lands are in the name of non tribal titleholders. The government has not taken any steps for cancellation of

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    Economic and Political Weekly April 15, 2006

    settlement pattas given in the name of nontribals. As such, GoAP officials are trying to dispossess the tribals from these lands and pay compensation to the non-tribal settlement pattadars.

    (vi) The GoAP order GO 68 says compensation will be paid only to those who have been in possession of forest lands from prior to 1980. Those tribals who have been cultivating such forest lands prior to 1980 but do not have documentary evidence are going to lose.

    Environmental Disaster

    According to the GoAP, 7,964 acres of forest land will be submerged. All these are natural forests. Their submergence means: (i) countless medicinal plants will be submerged and invaluable biodiversity will be lost, (ii) with the destruction of the forests, soil erosion in the upstream will result in siltation in the river and will turn the Polavaram dam into a time bomb for the East and West Godavari districts, (iii) tigers, panthers, foxes, bears, wolves, wild dogs and cats, boar, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, other reptiles, and other fauna will be lost,

  • (iv) Papikonda Wild Life Sanctuary which spreads over 360 sq km of East, West, and Khammam tribal areas will be submerged,
  • (v) alternative afforestation proposed by the GoAP is not adequate to compensate the loss of biodiversity, (vi) tribals are likely to move to other forest areas and clear them to create alternative settlements through uphill or vertical migration rather than move to the plain areas where the GoAP proposes to settle them. Thus the actual loss of forest area will be much more than the submergence, (vii) over 412 historic and pre-historic and archaeological sites which are vital to understand the culture and heritage of areas will be submerged by the project.
  • Illegal Project

    The GoAP has started construction of the dam in violation of the orders of the ministry of tribal welfare, Forest Conservation Act 1980, Environmental Protection Act 1986 and PESA Act.

    (i) As per the PESA Act, gram sabhas or panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in the scheduled areas for development projects and before resettling or rehabilitating persons affected by such projects. The union of India issued orders to describe the modalities of consultation with the gram sabhas or panchayats and the procedure to be followed for acquisition of the land in the Vth schedule area. No such procedure is being followed.

    (ii) Section 242-F of the panchayat raj act mandates that the mandal praja parishad shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in the scheduled areas for development projects and before resettling or rehabilitating persons evicted by such projects in the scheduled areas.

    (iii) The GoAP should provide all the details of the project to the public before a public hearing and then submit the proceedings to the ministry of environment to get clearance. The GoAP has acted unilaterally in the Polavaram case to get clearances from the environment and forest ministries.

    (iv) The state government is secretive and concealing the actual details of lands to be submerged, the number of affected persons and the details of the rehabilitation package submitted to the ministries.

    Faulty and Impractical Rehabilitation Plans

  • (i) The GoAP according to its own policy order is required to design projects to minimise displacement and identify nondisplacing or least displacing alternatives. Yet it has not made any effort to examine alternatives suggested by experts or set up a committee to look for alternatives to the Polavaram project.
  • (ii) The GoAP is trying to persuade people that the rights that tribals enjoy in the scheduled areas will apply to the rehabilitation areas too. This is unconstitutional. The power to declare an area as a scheduled area vests only with the president of India. The GoAP has no power to promise such privileges to rehabilitation sites. For several years the file which supports declaration of 796 predominant tribal villages as scheduled villages under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution has been pending with the government.
  • (iii) The GoAP’s action, luring project affected tribals with a promise of an additional 25 per cent R&R benefits for leaving the constitutionally protected scheduled areas, is unconstitutional and undemocratic.

    (iv) The GoAP issued GO 64 in 1990 enumerating the provisions for rehabilitation of displaced people in the scheduled area under development projects, which is based on the rights of tribals. The government of AP has set aside this order and issued GO 68 and is indulging in propaganda to claim that this is the best package in the whole country. This GO 68 gives a narrow meaning to the words R&R and is being weighed with monetary terms of compensation without considering the non-monetised and self-sufficient economy of tribes in the region.

  • (v) The GO 68 does not ensure the replacement value which includes the economic cost, social, and psychological cultural and social preparation to deal with the new system, training to displaced or project affected people for jobs or other vocation, preparing the host community to receive them, replacing the environmental, human and social infrastructure like common property resources.
  • (vi) There is no mandatory provision in the R&R GO to provide land as compensation to those who lose tribal land, ensuring their identity and rights envisaged in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • (vii) The rehabilitation policy does not mention anywhere that the displaced people should be the first beneficiaries of the projects. The GoAP has also not mentioned anywhere that the rehabilitation and resettlement work will take place only in the scheduled areas.

    The Adivasi Struggle Committee against Polavaram project demands the government (i) stop all work on Polavaram dam and make available the detailed project report in Telugu and English to the public,

    (ii) the public hearing should be re-held after making accessible all the relevant reports in languages known to tribals,

    (iii) publish a detailed white paper on the various development projects and current status of tribal land ownership, and rights to forests and water in Schedule V areas in the state, (iv) publish a detailed white paper on available water resources in the state, projections for the next 10 years and future commitments to different regions and sectors in light of the proposed water privatisation policy, (v) invite suggestions for conceptual alternatives immediately and constitute an independent technical commission comprising experts drawn from different disciplines to consider the alternatives within six months, and (vi) we call upon the government of Andhra Pradesh to restrain from exercising any form of repression on the people who are expressing their concerns on the proposed Indira Sagar/Polavaram Dam.



    Economic and Political Weekly April 15, 2006

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