Pattiseema project: AP violating all green norms

EAS Sarma

EAS Sarma

The Andhra Pradesh Government had issued an order on January 1, 2015, sanctioning Rs 1,300 crores for Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Project for diversion of 8,500 cusecs of water from Godavari to Krishna. According to this GO, the water will be utilised for both irrigation and industry and the state government considers this project as a part of Polavaram Project.

The GO has also suggested that the Pattiseema proposal “is well within the frame work of Krishna and Godavari Tribunal Awards”, as envisaged in the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014.

The replies provided to me by the State Irrigation Department on Pattiseema under the RTI Act reiterate that Pattiseema is a part of Polavaram project which has already been cleared by Ministry of Environment Affairs (MOEF) and Central Water Commission (CWC) and, therefore, no additional clearances need to be obtained by the state government for Pattiseema.

Apparently, Pattiseema involves a substantive change in the profile of Polavaram project both in terms of the physical specifications and design as well as the cost implications. As of now, the cost of Pattiseema appears to have already crossed Rs 1,600 crores. The project has since been implemented by the state by installing Chinese turbines, without CWC’s clearance.

According to a copy of the original Environment Clearance (EC) dated 25-10-2015 issued by MOEF for Polavaram, it would have expired by 25-10-2010 unless MOEF had specifically extended its validity for valid reasons. Para 6 of the EC stipulates that a fresh EC would be required in case of any change in the scope of the project.

To the best of my knowledge, the State government had, in the context of objections raised by Odisha and Chattisgarh governments, proposed to construct a huge river embankment to prevent the submergence of villages in those two states. This would obviously enhance the cost of Polavaram and would call for a fresh EC and CWC’s clearance, which have apparently not been obtained yet. Even the Pattiseema project which is not strictly a component of the Polavaram project design in its original form, has neither been appraised technically nor from the point of view of its environmental implications.

Polavaram project would displace a large number of tribal families located in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. The National Rehabilitation Policy (2007) envisages that the displaced families be assigned “land for land” within the command area of the project. In fact, this is a precondition to project construction. This is in line with the norm set by the apex court of India in several cases involving projects resulting in the displacement of people. This commitment remains unfulfilled.

Earlier, I had brought these concerns to the attention of the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, seeking his intervention in safeguarding the interests of the ST families being displaced as a result of Polavaram project. There has been no response as yet from him.

The AP Reorganisation Act of 2014 specifically requires all projects that utilise Godavari and Krishna waters, to be taken up only after securing clearance from the Apex Council and the Boards constituted for the purpose in pursuance of Sections 84 & 85 of the Act. The Apex Council and the Boards are required to function under the chairmanship of Ministry of Water Resources (MOWR). Apparently, this condition has also not been complied with in the case of Pattiseema.

As far as the tribals displaced by Polavaram are concerned, there has been an utter disregard for the enforcement of the provisions of both PESA and FRA and, as a result, the legitimate rights of the tribals have come under a serious threat. One can appreciate the gravity of the situation arising from the state’s apathy to the tribals by noting that the present government in AP has failed to constitute a Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) as required in Clause 4 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. As a result, the tribals stand deprived of their voice being articulated by the TAC on matters that concern their lives, including the R&R plan for Polavaram.

It is ironic that Polavaram project itself does not have all statutory and other clearances and both the Centre and the State are rushing ahead at breakneck speed to implement it. Now, it is the state government that has taken up Pattiseema without the necessary clearances and is claiming that it is a part and parcel of Polavaram and, therefore, it does not require clearances!

Against this background, the central government should take steps on the following lines:

  1. The state government should be directed to complyin toto with the R&R and other conditions stipulated in the MOWR Press Release dated 1-12-2011 before any attempt is made to displace the tribal families for starting construction of Polavaram project.
  1. MOEF should initiate proceedings under the Environment (Protection) Act to make sure that both Polavaram and Pattiseema projects are appropriately appraised for their environmental implications and take such other measures as required to convey to all that, however expedient a state considers a project to be, it cannot implement such a project in defiance of the requirements of the Fifth Schedule, PESA, FRA as well as Article 48A of the Constitution and the Environment (Protection) Act.
  1. The state authorities should be directed to make sure that both Polavaram and Pattiseema are subject to a technical appraisal by CWC as required in the case of all such major projects.
  1. MOEF should examine whether the state government has infringed upon the requirement of “prior approval” condition by taking up construction of the two projects pending clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act

MOWR should bear in mind that Polavaram project has since been declared as a “National Project” under Section 90 of the AP Reorganisation Act and the ministry has therefore the added responsibility of ensuring that the way the project gets implemented is in total compliance with the central and the state laws.

(The writer is former secretary to the Government of India. Sarma has sent copies of letters and correspondence and relevant GOs on Pattiseema and Polavaram to Ashok Lavasa, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests; Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources; Ashwin Pandya, Chairman, Central Water Commission; and Arun Jha, Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, for necessary action).

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