Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, July 28:
The NDA government at the Centre has yet again ignored Odisha’s interests by allowing the Andhra Pradesh government to resume construction work on the controversial Polavaram dam. Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar has done away with a stop-work order.
The Centre has allowed Andhra Pradesh to go ahead with the construction even without completion of the statutory public hearings in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The Centre has not even informed Odisha government about it.
Javadekar has done so at the personal request of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sources said.
A report by Business Standard, quoting from a July 3 letter by Javadekar to Naidu, says: “I have your letter dated April 25 regarding continuation of works of the Indira Sagar Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh. I have got the matter examined in my ministry… with the anticipation that the pending public hearing will be resolved through discussions and persistent engagement with Odisha and Chhattisgarh, my ministry has taken the decision to keep the ‘stop-work order’ in abeyance for a period of a year. A copy of the office memorandum in this regard is enclosed for your information.”
The report says Javadekar’s letter attaches executive orders from joint secretary Biswanath Sinha, dated June 23 which says, “This ministry has decided to keep the stop-work order in abeyance for a period of a year.”
It concedes that public hearings hadn’t been carried out in the two states and that both had approached the Supreme Court against the project and the verdicts were pending. The order is marked to principal secretary (irrigation) in the Andhra Pradesh government.
The executive order of the Environment Ministry further says, “The government of Andhra Pradesh has assured it will bring about changes in the design and operating parameters of the project in case warranted as a result of public hearings in Chhattisgarh and Odisha and such changes would be carried out in consultation with the CWC (Central Water Commission) and the consent of all states. In that case, change in design or/and operating parameters might be required to ensure the area falling in the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha does not come under submergence due to impounding of the project reservoir.”
Oddly, the executive order reads, “During the first three-six months of this period of one year, the government of Andhra Pradesh shall ensure public hearings are conducted in the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha and submit the outcome of the public hearings to the Environment Ministry.”
As per the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, public hearings in the two states cannot be organised by the Andhra Pradesh government; these have to be carried out by the respective state governments through the state pollution control boards concerned.
Only after the hearings can an environment-impact assessment be conducted. A positive appraisal of the assessment would permit the Centre to give a nod. Construction on the project can take place only after this and other clearances.
In 2005, the Andhra Pradesh government secured a clearance for the project component falling within its territory. In 2010, the state sought clearance for the parts of the project in the two other states. The Union Environment Ministry gave its approval that year.
However, in 2011, it issued a stop-work order when Chhattisgarh and Odisha protested that their areas would also be impacted, adding no studies or hearings had been conducted. Subsequently, the two approached the Supreme Court separately against the project.
The project is to be built on the Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. But the water is expected to inundate many tribal villages in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Construction has to be carried out for the project in these states too.
Around 40 villages in seven panchayats in Malkangiri district are feared to be submerged due to the proposed Polavaram project.