Odisha refuses to conduct public hearing on Polavaram project

Bhubaneswar: Rejecting neighbouring Andhra Pradesh’s request to conduct a public hearing on the Polavaram project, the Odisha government today said it cannot go for such an exercise because the matter was sub-judice.

“The Odisha government cannot conduct public hearing at this stage without the direction of the apex court as it will violate the law,” Forest and Environment Secretary S C Mohapatra told reporters here.

Stating that both the Andhra Pradesh government and the Centre were now putting pressure on the Odisha government to conduct a public hearing, Mohapatra said, “Such a public hearing should have been conducted before the Centre accorded environmental clearance to the Polavaram project in 2005. This apart, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA) has also given its permission to the project in 2007 without a public hearing even as the people of the Scheduled Areas will be affected by the Polavaram project.”

Mohapatra pointed out that the public hearing should have been done before the Centre accorded clearance to the Polavaram project.

Since the Centre has declared Polavaram as a national project and decided to fund the entire cost of the project, they have been putting pressure to set right legal formalities, said a state government official, adding the Centre gave clearances to the project despite Odisha’s objections at different stages.

The Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) has also issued direction for conducting public hearing in the affected areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The Andhra Pradesh government then challenged the NEAA order in Andhra Pradesh High Court and got a stay on the order.

Later, the case was transferred to Supreme Court after the Odisha government filed a transfer petition, Mohapatra said, adding the technical committee of the Central Water Commission has given clearance to the construction of a 200 ft wide and 30 to 40 ft high embankment on rivers Sileru and Saeri in Malkangiri district at a cost of Rs 600 crore.

The Odisha government was opposing such a proposal as backwater of the Polavaram project would inundate about two dozen tribal villages in the Malkangiri district.

Mohapatra said the Odisha government has filed a case in the Supreme Court against the Centre’s final forest clearance to the project.

The state government also drew attention of the apex court that the Andhra Pradesh government be directed not to proceed with the construction of the project work.

“Since the case is pending in the Supreme court, the public hearing can be made only after permission granted by the apex court,” Mohapatra said.

The Odisha Pollution Control Board has in the meantime apprised the Water Resources department of Andhra Pradesh that it would not go for the public hearing.