The Polavaram Irrigation Project, billed as the lifeline of resource-starved Andhra Pradesh, is apparently bearing the brunt of a long-drawn slanging match between the Centre and the state government.
Officially known as the Indira Sagar Multipurpose Project, it is expected to irrigate 2.91 lakh hectares, generate 960 MW of power, and fulfil the water needs of industries and 540 villages in Andhra. But bureaucratic wrangles between the Centre and the state have dealt heavy blows to the project.
Though the project had been under contemplation since 1941, the works started in 2005. Efforts to complete it gained momentum in 2015, following the bifurcation of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, says Ramesh Babu, the superintending engineer of the project.
He says 54 per cent of the works have been completed and the rest will be finished by December 2019. But he does not sound very assuring. The reason - a large number of the affected families have not been rehabilitated yet. “That’s the main roadblock. The major component of the project is Rs 33,000 crore for rehabilitation. Unless we resettle the affected families, we cannot complete the dam. We cannot submerge the villages,” he says.
CM N Chandrababu Naidu suggests Andhra Pradesh may stop paying taxes to the Centre if it doesn’t provide funds for the rehabilitation work.
“The rehabilitation work has been completed to a certain extent. As and when the Centre gives the money, we will complete the rest of it.“The central government will have to give the money. It is our right and is mentioned in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act. They cannot go against it. If they do all these things... Why should we pay taxes to the Centre? Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not doing us any favours,” he says.
Officials say Naidu visited the project site 30 times in the last three years. He reviews the work every Monday, in keeping with his slogan “Polavaram on Somavaram”.
They say the main components of Polavaram are -- a dam across the Godavari and two main canals, one to its right and the other to the left. For constructing the dam, it is imperative to resettle the affected people. Around 3,000 of the 98,000 affected families have relocated. The cost of resettling the affected villagers was calculated according to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, Babu says.
“We have submitted revised estimates to the Centre, which is scrutinising them. Once that is completed, we are expecting to receive the funds required,” he says.
He adds the release of funds by the Centre doesn’t match the pace of the work at the project site.
Andhra Irrigation Minister D Uma Maheswara Rao says the onus to rehabilitate the villagers is on the Centre, which had declared Polavaram a national project in 2014 and promised to bear the construction cost for the period starting from April 1, 2014.
The Andhra government has been directing a lion’s share of its resources to the project, so much so that it has left no money to spend on its other flagship schemes.
“Rs 13,460 crore has been spent on the project since its inception. The Andhra government had squandered Rs 5,135 crore before Polavaram was declared a national project in 2014. “The state spent another Rs 8,330 crore on it up to April 2018. The Centre has so far released Rs 5,342 crore to the AP government. It is yet to reimburse Rs 2,988 crore (calculated since 2014),” Rao says.
“The state government is providing the maximum share of funds for the payments of the project. As a result, it has become very difficult to handle the payments of other flagship programmes. The Centre is responsible for the situation,” he says.
The Polavaram project is the lifeline of Andhra Pradesh, which has been building a legacy from scratch following the agonising bifurcation, he says.