Visakhapatnam: Polavaram project has no valid environment clearance and construction activity that is going on is therefore illegal, according to former Energy Secretary EAS Sarma.
Pointing this out in a letter addressed to the Secretary of Ministry for Environment and Forests Ashok Lavasa, Secretary to Ministry of Water Resources Dr Amarjit Singh and Chairman of Central Water Commission (CWC) Ashwin Pandya of the Central Government, he said that Polavaram had since been notified as a `National’ project and the responsibility for executing the project in accordance with the law of the land falls squarely on the Union government.
“Knowing this well, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Water Resources have been deliberately releasing funds for the project ignoring the fact that they too have become a party to the illegality,” he said.
The State government had since added two lift irrigation projects (Pattiseema and Purushothampatnam) to Polavaram, not originally envisaged, and were proceeding at a breakneck speed to execute them at a cost of more than Rs 4,000 crore without any clearance from CWC and the Ministry of Environment, he noted. The State government had included the expenditure on these lift irrigation projects in the cost estimate of Polavaram and had been diverting the Polavaram budgetary allocations for these projects. In a way, the two lift irrigation projects reduce the justification for Polavaram significantly, he observed.
Till date, the State government had not implemented the Forest Rights Act, thereby depriving hundreds of thousands of displaced tribal families of compensation for the land lost by them and the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which is fully aware of this, has remained a mute spectator to this, Dr Sarma said.
“Meanwhile, according to a reply received by me under the RTI Act, it has become evident that the number of villages that would come under submergence in the case of this project will be far more than the number originally disclosed, suggesting that the State ought to have held public hearings on the project involving all such villages. This omission adds to the illegalities involved,” he said. “The more worrisome aspect of the project is the vigilance implication of the State government caving in to pressure from the contractors and granting favours to them again and again, resulting in a huge cost escalation. The cost estimate as submitted by the State to the Ministry of Water Resources was originally around Rs 16,000 crore, whereas the latest cost estimates will cross Rs 40,000 crore. CWC is yet to approve even the lower cost estimate of Rs 16,000 crore,” he further stated.
What distressed him was the continuing brazenness on the part of the State government to grant undue favours to the 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 was surprising that the Secretary of the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) had been co-opted as a member of that Committee making the Central government a willing party to the undue favours granted to the contractors, Dr Sarma said.
“The fact that four Central Ministries have acquiesced together in allowing the State to commit multiple illegalities and commit improprieties of such a huge magnitude suggests that the Centre is openly conspiring with the State to incur illegal public expenditure on the project, without raising any questions. None of the Central Ministries has questioned the technical implications of the Pattiseema and Purushothampatnam lift irrigation projects and whether they 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.
He requested the Central government to order an independent investigation into the illegalities and the financial improprieties committed so far. The Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) should not be an ineffective party to the deliberations of the newly set up Committee or, otherwise, question the illegalities and improprieties in a forthright manner, he pointed out. “Every additional rupee that the Central government releases for Polavaram will involve the Centre that much more in the financial improprieties and the Central government should be fully aware of it.
In my view, the CAG should conduct a special audit of the expenditure incurred so far on Polavaram and report the matter to the Parliament. The CBI should investigate the financial improprieties and provide feedback to the Central government,” Dr Sarma opined.