CAG Audit Demanded On Polavaram Expenditure

Former Secretary to Union Government EAS Sarma has accused the Centre of openly conspiring with the Andhra Pradesh Government in incurring illegal public expenditure on the Polavaram Project. He demanded a CBI inquiry into the affair.

Visakhapatnam: Former Secretary to Government of India and social activist, EAS Sarma, has demanded a special audit by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India into the expenditure incurred so far on the Polavaram project. He also wanted a CBI investigation into the financial improprieties committed while implementing the project.

In a letter to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Central Water Commission (CWC), Sarma complained that the Andhra Pradesh Government had added Purushothampatnam and Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Projects, which were not originally envisaged in the Polavaram Project. Even though no clearance has been received from the CWC and the Ministry of Environment, work on the two projects was proceeding at a breakneck speed at a cost of more than Rs 4,000 crores.  By including the expenditure on these lift irrigation projects in the cost estimate of Polavaram, the State Government was actually diverting the Polavaram budgetary allocations, he remarked.

A more worrisome aspect of the project, he said, was the vigilance implication of State Government caving into the pressure from contractors and granting favours to them again and again, resulting in huge cost escalation. The cost estimate, as submitted by the State to the Ministry of Water Resources, was originally around Rs 16,000 crores, whereas the latest estimates would cross Rs 40,000 crores. CWC was yet to approve even the lower cost estimate of Rs 16,000 crores, Sarma pointed out.

“What distresses me is the continuing brazenness on the part of the State Government to grant undue favours to contractors month after month. The latest development in this respect is that the State has set up a “committee’ to examine the recent demands put forward by the contractors. It is surprising that the Secretary of the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) has been co-opted as a member of that committee, making the Central Government a willing party to the undue favours granted to contractors,” he charged.

The former Secretary to Union Government alleged that the Centre was openly conspiring with the State to incur illegal public expenditure on the project, without raising any questions. He felt this fact suggested that “None of the Central Ministries has questioned the technical implications of the Pattiseema and Purushothampatnam Lift Irrigation Projects, and whether these projects render portions of Polavaram redundant. “Why displace hundreds of thousands of helpless tribals in three States when the project brings no additional benefits in the wake of the two lift irrigation projects?” he asked.

Objecting to release of funds to the Polavaram Project, as it had not received environment clearance, Sarma demanded that the Centre get the expenditure incurred so far on the project audited by CAG and make sure that the audit’s findings were placed in the Parliament. He also sought a CBI inquiry into the financial improprieties committed while implementing the project.

The former Secretary accused the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs of remaining a mute spectator and not implementing the Forest Rights Act, even as the State Government had denied payment of compensation to tribal families for lands lost by them to the project.  He said that according to an RTI response he received, it had become evident that the number of villages that would come under submergence because of the project would be far more than the number originally disclosed, pointing out that the State ought to have held public hearings on the project involving all such villages. “This omission adds to the illegalities involved,” he observed.

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