Op-Ed: Polavaram Embarrassment For Naveen

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Union environment ministry’s decision to grant a two-year extension for the construction of Polavaram multi-purpose project in Andhra Pradesh comes as an embarrassment for the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government which has been opposing the dam that threatens to submerge several tribal villages in Malkangiri district.

The discomfiture of Patnaik can be understood as the development comes within days of BJD extending support BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate, former IAS officer, Ashwini Vaishnav. It was supposed to be a quid pro quo with hopes running high in the state’s ruling dispensation that Odisha’s interests on issues like Polavaram and Mahanadi would be taken care of by the BJP-led NDA government.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, however, seems to have lent a sympathetic ear to Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Jaganmohan Reddy’s demand for expediting work on Polavaram as the support of YSR Congress is as crucial to the NDA government as that of Patnaik’s BJD if not more. But this is bound to hurt the interests of Odisha.

Polvaram project has a chequered history. In 2011, the then union government had asked the Andhra Pradesh government to stop its construction. But in 2014, the NDA government declared Polavaram a national project and the ‘stop work order’ was kept in abeyance to allow construction. Now a two-year extension has been granted by keeping the ‘stop work order’ in abeyance again.

The project is considered important for Andhra Pradesh as it will irrigate nearly 3 lakh hectares of land, generate hydro power with an installed capacity of 960 MW and provide drinking water to 540 villages covering a population of 25 lakh in Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari and Krishna districts. Reddy’s predecessor, Chandrababu Naidu had also pursued the project vigorously despite objections from Odisha.

Last year chief minister, Naveen Patnaik had demanded immediate stoppage of project work till the issues pertaining to Odisha were resolved. “If the project is completed before resolution of all the pending issues then it will lead to a situation which will permanently affect a large number of tribal people in Odisha,” he had said in a letter to the Centre.

Patnaik had argued that the construction of the project was in violation of the Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal (GWDT) and it was being carried on without correctly assessing the back-water extent in Sabari and Sileru rivers in Odisha.

Odisha, which had moved Supreme Court over the issue, also claimed that Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the project in 2005 was invalid as no public hearing was conducted in Malkangiri district which would be severely affected by the project in its present form.

Given this backdrop the decision of the environment ministry to extend the construction period of the project by two years comes as a major blow to Odisha government. The opposition is certain to grill chief minister, Naveen Patnaik over the issue, especially in the backdrop of BJD’s support for BJP candidate, Ashwini Vaishnav in the Rajya Sabha. The development is likely to dent what was being seen as renewed bonhomie between BJD and BJP following Patnaik’s recent meeting with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in Delhi.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)