The prestigious Polavaram project is running at snail’s pace thanks to the acts of omissions and commissions of the then Chandrababu regime. The project works are not just competing with the snail, they are also mired in inter-state controversies. Normally, when projects of such magnitude are taken up, the governments keep politics and the contractors’ interests at bay and follow the engineering guidelines quite strictly. Yet, Chandrababu flouted these guidelines at will for the past five years and these have now become millstones around Polavaram. By not taking up the R and R works, he had opened the door for inter-state disputes. As a result, the issue went to the Apex Court and got further delayed. What with the Odisha government approaching the court with a request to stop the project works, the project is now in doldrums. This will badly affect the interests of our state and the officials are worried that more obstacles would follow. Now they are working overtime to disentangle the mess that Chandrababu Naidu has created and are burning their midnight oil over the legal tangles.
The Odisha government had approached the Apex Court with a plea that the works on the project be stopped forthwith as the R and R works were not in place and that the flood inflow containment measures should be enough to control the flow of 50 lakh cusecs. It said the tribal inhabited areas of Odisha in the catchment area would be flooded due to this. The Supreme Court admitted Odisha’s plea for hearing. Now both the AP Government and the Centre will have to file in their replies. All this is happening only because Chandrababu Naidu did a shoddy and perfunctory job, say irrigation officials. They are worried that there could be several new issues before the Supreme Court and all these will further delay the project works.
All due to Chandrababu’s negligence
Despite all these, in a classic case of pot calling the kettle black, Chandrababu and his cohorts are resorting to Goebelsian strategies and are claiming that the Polavaram works have come to a halt ever since the YSRCP government has come to power. But the fact is that despite not being handed over the hydel project, the reservoir works are going on as planned. The problem is with the R and R works. Of the total allocation of Rs 51424 crore, Rs 32509 crore have to be spent on R and R and land acquisition works. In fact, the spending on the R and R is much more than the actual project. The 2012 Act on R and R is quite stringent and it lays lot of emphasis on the R and R works and on the displaced and affected people.
It may be recalled that the YSRCP government had worked very hard to secure 11 out of 13 permissions. They include permissions from land acquisition, R and R, tribal welfare and the Central Water Commission. It was during the Kiran Kumar Reddy regime that the tender works and during Chandrababu Naidu’s time, the contracts were awarded to a contractor who is well known for his inefficiency. This contractor was favoured because he would sub-lease the work to the TDP backers who in turn would give kickbacks to the powers that be.
All the problems dogging the project have stemmed out of this. The Engineering works were done in violation of the rules and the R and R works, which should have been done concomitantly, were not taken up. Instead of the spill way, a coffer dam was constructed. Due to this, the remaining works were stalled. The floods, which came last year, have inundated several areas and the upper reaches were fully submerged. As a result, there was no work space and most of the infrastructure needed for the works was washed away. All these had to be set up afresh. The works are picking pace only recently. The Government has revised the working plan in such a way that the main works would be completed by April and that every work would be completed by June next year.
Coffer Dam at the root of all problems
It is clear that at the root of all the problems is the coffer dam. Chandrababu Naidu, who realised that it was impossible to complete the project on time, began enacting a hoax in the name of coffer dam. Since the State Government did not have adequate funds and that the Centre has stopped funding the programme, Chandrababu tried to dupe the people in the name of constructing a coffer dam. He tried to portray this as the Polavaram project. Later as a via media, the TDP Government proposed that the height of the project as 42.5 metres. The Central, which shouldn’t normally have agreed to this, had given its not much against the guidelines.
Both the Central and the State Goverment had hoodwinked the people of the state in the name of Polavaram coffer dam. By building a coffer dam, Chandrababu Naidu wanted to project this has the completion of the Phase 1 of the project. Due to this the height of the project had to be altered and had to be pegged at 42.5 metres. The TDP government also brought pressure on the engineers for a redesigning of the project and tried to pressurise the Centre too. It was an attempt on the part of the Chandrababu government to pass of this coffer dam as the actual Polavaram project. Actually, a coffer dam is meant to prevent water from obstructing the water flow so that the actual project work could be taken up. But the tragedy is that even the coffer dam was not fully completed.
Thus it was a conspiracy to pass off an unstable and weak coffer dam as the actual project and it was a bigger conspiracy to show this as Phase 1 of the project. All these have caused the construction costs to go up exponentially. The only beneficiary inthe whole exercise is the contractor.
Odisha exposes Chandrababu’s follies
The Odisha Government is now effectively highlighting these follies and is seeking relief from the Apex Court. It is also highlighting the inability to complete the RR plan. Of the total of Rs 17000 crore spent so far, only Rs 5000 crore were spent on land acquisition and the RR works. Though the present government intends to provide irrigation facility by June next year, the R and R works still remain unaddressed due to the paucity of funds.
Violations galore to favour acolytes
Though the Centre has declared Polavaram as a national project, it has categorically said that it would only fund the construction works and not the R and R and the land acquisition. Chandrababu, on his part, made no effort to convince the Centre to fund the R and R. Instead, he gave the contract to his acolytes in violation of the rules. The contractors were changed and the works were sub-leased to benefit the contractors. His worst mistake yet was to ignore the spill way and take up the construction of the coffer dam.
The YS Jagan Government is now trying to bring pressure on the Central Government to bear the costs of the R and R too. The two works have to go on concommittantly. Without the R and R works, the project works cannot go ahead. The state government is now facing an uphill task.