Displacing Godavari and Its People – Polavaram Dam శుక్రవారం, నవం 6 2015 

Book review
When Godavari Comes: People’s History of a River–Journeys in the Zone of the Dispossessed by R Uma Maheshwari, New Delhi: Aakar Books, 2014; pp 486 + xviii, Rs 595.

N Venugopal (venugopalraon@yahoo.com) is the editor of Veekshanam, a Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society.

Polavaram multipurpose irrigation project across the Godavari River is likely to displace more than 3,00,000 people, mostly Adivasis, by submerging over 300 habitations. It will also submerge forests with rich biodiversity, a hill range, a river and several streams, agricultural lands, and cultural sites. The highly controversial project, first envisaged in the 1940s under the colonial government, was actually taken up by the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 2006, without proper sanctions and clearances from many statutory bodies. The project violates safeguards provided to Adivasis in the Constitution as well as several legislations, including the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The works on the project began and continued without approvals like clearance for revised costs by the Expenditure (Finance) Committee; Central Electrical Authority’s clearance for power component; approvals from gram sabhas in the submergence areas in Odisha and Chhattisgarh states; approval of Forest (Conservation) Act for submergence areas in Odisha and Chhattisgarh; techno-economic clearance from the Central Water Commission (CWC); and CWC approval for dam design and operation schedule. In fact, the project is under litigation with several cases pending in the Supreme Court (SC) filed by governments of Chhattisgarh and Odisha as well as environmental and Adivasi groups. The project is also in violation of the National Tribal Policy as it violates the direction, “any project which displaces more than 50,000 tribal people should not be taken up.” In 2006, the SC appointed a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to study the concerns and the CEC report said,
there is, therefore, a strong case for a second thought and explore alternative location and design of the dam to avoid the colossal loss in terms of apprehended sufferings and disruption of life style of the local inhabitants.

Tussle between States

Despite these counterpoints, the Government of Andhra Pradesh continued the works without any respect for the legal process, technical objections and social debate. The people’s movement for bifurcation of the state and formation of Telangana somewhat slowed down the pace of the works and during the movement, many Telangana votaries including Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) opposed the construction of the dam, primarily on the displacement plank. However, when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was moved in Parliament, recognition to Polavaram as a national project was mooted. The leaders of would-be Andhra Pradesh expressed suspicion that Telangana may oppose the project and raise litigation if the to-be submerged villages are left in Telangana and sought the villages to be given to Andhra Pradesh. All the villages passed resolutions in their gram sabhas to retain them in Telangana.

The bill became an Act in February and in May, the new government that came to power in Delhi promulgated an ordinance favouring the demand of Andhra Pradesh, transferring six mandals and some villages. Telangana immediately responded with a bandh called by the ruling party TRS against the ordinance, but, later the ordinance (amendment to the act) was almost accepted, without even challenging it in a court of law. The funniest part is that the “people’s representative” elected by the transferred villages now sits in Telangana Assembly while the people he is supposed to represent live in another state!

Movement and Resistance

Thus, Polavaram is a classic case of Adivasi displacement, deception, violation of laws, political gimmicks, constitutional and legal improprieties, corruption, etc. Notwithstanding this unique position, the comprehensive story of Polavaram is yet to be told. Over the last decade, it occupied a large space in local language media but not the deserving attention of the country. Though the people in the submergence zone as well as outside have been fighting against this gross injustice, the people’s movements against displacement have not attracted national attention. In this context, When Godavari Comes: People’s History of a River by R Umamaheshwari is a much-needed and remarkable attempt based on a number of journeys the author made in the zone of the dispossessed during five years between 2006 and 2010 and updating her story till mid-2014. (మరింత…)

Polavaram Dam: Corrupt interests at the expense of noble alternatives గురువారం, అక్టో 25 2012 

Observational Report on the Polavaram Dam Project and Surrounding Areas
– Drew Bahr
, HELP International Intern

During the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to personally witness the proposed construction site of the Polavaram Dam as well as interview three engineers and environment experts with alternative proposals and view the conditions of the people in the proposed area of displacement that would be created by the Dam. During this three-day journey from Hyderabad to northern Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, I was surprised to find that many things are not as they were officially described by the government.

Our trip began with an effort to document the present existence of canals to provide irrigation for the surrounding countryside from the Godavari River to refute the claim that the Dam is necessary to provide irrigation for rice and other crops. Although government engineers seem to ignore their presence, we visited perfectly working canals and pumping stations from the river alongside new canals which were supposedly built to take water from the Godavari River to the Krishna River Basin. These larger canals, however, seem to have displaced an inordinate amount of farmers and did not provide means for their local use through pumps or other forms of access.

Anti dam stir in Northeast – Nitin Sethi మంగళవారం, జూన్ 5 2012 

Small numbers drown northeast anti-dam stirs
Nitin Sethi, TNN June 5, 2012

NEW DELHI: It’s a tough one to sell to the rest of India. A dam in northeast India displaces a much smaller number of people than, say, a Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh that would displace more than a lakh. Or a project on the Narmada in Madhya Pradesh that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands.

So when the gigantic 1,750-MW Demwe Hydroelectric Project comes up on Lohit, a tributary of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh, just a couple of hundred households of the small Miju Mishmis and Digaru Mishmis tribes are displaced. India hasn’t heard of them.

This number of people could fit into a single block of a Delhi housing colony. Moreover, they are not ‘us’. For the rest of India, Arunachal Pradesh has been India’s border land, not someone’s home.

The government assesses that the dam is needed for ‘strategic’ reasons as much as for the power it would generate. So the impact on the flora, fauna and environment comes second.

The few hundred families in the way can be taken care of with contracts, jobs dole – a minor cost of development. No one questions if the dam would wipe out an entire community’s way of life. Such as in the case of the Tipaimukh hydroelectric dam in Manipur, where the Zeliangrong Nagas stand to lose their sacred spots and half their fertile hills or the sacred mountains of Sikkim’s Lepchas in the case of dams on the Teesta. (మరింత…)

3rd party EIA for Polavaram Dam or same old joke ఆదివారం, మార్చి 20 2011 

Environment assessment is a joke, says Jairam; wants 3rd party EIA

Business Line, 19 March 2011

“The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in the current form is a bit of a joke as it is self-assessment by the company. Instead, we will have a third party EIA,” Mr Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests, said.

Speaking to reporters at the CII-Green Business Centre, Mr Ramesh said, “I have been concerned about this. Supreme Court also expressed its concerns. We want a cumulative EIA.” (మరింత…)

Free Vineel Krishna & Pabitra Majhi శనివారం, ఫిబ్ర 19 2011 

Collector’s kidnap: Orissa govt. contacts mediators

The Hindu, Malkangiri/Bhubaneswar, February 18, 2011

Asking Maoists to extend their two-day deadline, Orissa government on Friday said it has established contact with two mediators handpicked by the Naxals to negotiate the release of abducted Malkangiri District Collector R V Krishna and a junior engineer.

“They (Maoists) had given three names for negotiation.

We have established contact with Prof Someswar Rao and Prof Hargopal (both from Andhra Pradesh). They are willing to mediate in the matter,” Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar after a marathon meeting at the Chief Minister’s office here.

The two mediators have accepted the State government’s request to issue an appeal for extension of two-day deadline given by Naxals who kidnapped Mr. Krishna, a 30-year-old IAS officer, and the junior engineer Mr. Pabitra Majhi on Wednesday, the Chief Secretary said.

He said the State government has also contacted social activist Swami Agnivesh, who indicated that the Naxals were considering extending the time-frame of two days to meet their seven-point demands including halt to anti-Naxal joint operations, which has already been conceded, withdrawal of BSF, release of 700 tribal Naxals and scrapping of Polavaram water-sharing project with Andhra Pradesh. (మరింత…)

Navigators of Change: NGOs శనివారం, జన 29 2011 


Navigators Of Change

As government, corporates seek to engage with NGOs, they gain new significance
Lola Nayar

Brave NGO World?

• The Planning Commission is courting NGOs for policy inputs, views on how to make plans work
• NGOs and local activism forced govt to stall Vedanta, Posco plans
• NGO opposition to snacks being served in schools changed plans to scrap hot meals
• NGO have made the government rethink the Polavaram dam project
• Their criticism of the leakage of NREGA funds led to the creation of monitoring mechanisms
• NGOs have worked to enshrine education as a fundamental right
• Matters related to environment clearance—like GM foods, mining —now go through public debate, thanks to NGOs.
• NGOs played a crucial role in strengthening the nuclear liability bill, securing rights for gays

The jholawala is the latest lobbyist in town. He or she has top policymakers on speed-dial, is now feted by the media and sought out by companies eager to promote ‘India Inclusive’. It’s a remarkable, even heady, transformation. For long derided as irrelevant trouble-making activists largely focused on rural India, NGOs (registered arms of what is loosely called civil society) are basking in the warm embrace of recognition and relevance.

As recent events have shown, NGOs have played important roles in the big debates of the day. With a little help from fellow travellers—and occasionally backed by political support—they have been able to swing policy decisions in the citizen’s interest, be it stalling plans for Bt brinjal cultivation, or questioning the Polavaram dam project or bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills. The outcome has often hit the grand plans of corporate giants like Posco, Vedanta and Tatas. More lasting perhaps will be the civil society’s contribution in ushering in a range of rights regimes—information, education or livelihood, and soon, the right to food.

Given the apparently in-built adversarial relationship between NGOs, governments and companies, it’s a controversial thesis to put out. For every voice that celebrates the new power behind NGOs, an equal number urges caution and stresses that the ground realities haven’t changed. Is it right then to see NGOs as a necessary, important power centre? Are they really becoming indispensable in matters of governance, delivery of services or voicing the needs of the marginalised? Or is it just a politically correct trend that covers a few, high-profile outfits, leaving the vast majority just where it always was?

Experts differ in their assessment of the role and relevance of ngos. “Over the last decade things have changed. We are being sought for policy inputs. The demand is also coming from below—the community, the beneficiaries, the vulnerable sections—who know their needs,” says Farida Lambay of Pratham, an important NGO in the education space. With a growing grip on best practices, Lambay feels civil society is filling the space a pole that can represent the people’s concerns and aspirations. (మరింత…)

Myth of Welfare State and Aid – Bharat Jhunjhunwala ఆదివారం, జూన్ 27 2010 


Foreign aid is destroying our society

Bharat Jhunjhunwala
New Indian Express, 23 Jun 2010

The British government has ordered an inquiry into leakages from Sarva Siksha Abhiyan which financially is supported by it. This has been triggered by a report of our Comptroller and Auditor General that Rs 10 lakhs were spent under the project for the purchase of four luxury beds. Rs 90 lakhs were transferred to an unknown bank account. About 7,500 colour TV sets were purchased for schools that did not even have an electricity connection. Similar corruption is being reported from the Employment Guarantee Scheme. Worse, this type of foreign aid also changes the direction of our own government expenditure.

In an earlier World Development Report, the World Bank elaborated many ways in which aid was having a negative impact on recipient countries. Aid influences the nature of domestic spending. The donor may give aid for only capital expenses and expect the recipient to incur running expenditure from its own budget. A donor may make a huge hospital for AIDS, which is high its own agenda, and that may lead to the poor country spending towards the recurring expenditure on AIDS prevention. The recipient country then spends less on the prevention of tuberculosis or malnutrition which is more important and spends more on AIDS prevention.

Aid may be given for projects in which the recipient is not interested. Some villages in Rajasthan dug up their well-functioning tanks and spoiled them under government-led famine relief works because they would get famine relief only if they undertook earth works like digging tanks. (మరింత…)

AP’s disastrous irrigation schemes slow down మంగళవారం, నవం 3 2009 

Jalayagnam comes to a virtual halt

NM Satheesh  Indian Express 3 Nov 2009

HYDERABAD: Jalayagnam, the favourite scheme of former chief minister the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, seems to have slided down in the list of priorities of the present government.

Leave alone the progress of the programme at the field level, even a review of it by the government has become rare in the last two months.

According to sources in the irrigation department, funding of the programme has come to a halt and the pending bills are piling up with the government.

It seems that the government is not going to spend the allocated budget Rs 18,000 crore in this financial year. The government has not released even Rs 1,000 crore for the projects in the last two months. It was decided by the regime of Rajasekhara Reddy that the government should release about Rs 1,400 crore every month to keep the projects going.

According to officials, the government has already halted payment of Rs 4,000 crore which was spent by the contractors and the construction of projects like Pulichintala which has been completed to an extent of 70 per cent is not progressing as per the schedule.

Irrigation officials say that the time table fixed by the government for the completion of 82 major and medium irrigation projects under Jalayagnam will go awry.

The YSR government had contemplated Jalayagnam to bring about one crore acres of land under irrigation facility. Under the scheme 82 projects are to be constructed at a cost of Rs 1.50 lakh crore. (మరింత…)

Truth of Displacement & Rehabilitation: GoM’s confidential Report శనివారం, అక్టో 31 2009 

The Hindu /Opinion 17 April 2006

GoM’s confidential report

This is the text, obtained exclusively by The Hindu, of “A Brief Note on the Assessment of Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R & R) Sites and Submergence of Villages of the Sardar Sarovar Project.” The note marked confidential and dated April 9, 2006, was signed by Union Minister of Water Resources, Saifuddin Soz, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Meira Kumar, and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chauhan.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) comprising Prof. Saifuddin Soz, Minister of Water Resources, Smt. Meira Kumar, Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment and Shri Prithviraj Chavan, MOS in the PMO, deputed by the Hon’ble Prime Minister to Madhya Pradesh, arrived Indore late in the evening on April 6, 2006.

Soon after arrival in Indore, a meeting was held with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan and some of his Cabinet colleagues and officers.

The Madhya Pradesh Government made a presentation and wanted the GoM to appreciate that the Madhya Pradesh Government had taken concrete steps to rehabilitate Project Affected Families (PAFs) and that Rehabilitation and Resettlement would be completed by 30th June, 2006. In that connection, the GoM was requested to visit some sites such as Khalghat, Dharampuri, Lakhangaon and Borlai etc.

When asked as to how many SC/ST families were affected, the Government could not provide any information.

Early in the morning of April 7, 2006, the GoM left for a visit to Rehabilitation and Submergence sites.

The GoM visited Khalghat, Dharampuri, Lakhangaon, Borlai 1, 2 and 3, Awalda, Piplud and Nisarpur. The GoM was stopped at other places including Picchodi where people narrated their tales of woe. The representatives of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) had insisted in Delhi in their memorandum that a visit to Borlai, Awalda, Piplud and Nisarpur would be necessary to find out whether the claim of the Government of Madhya Pradesh that the PAFs had been rehabilitated was correct.


The GoM visited Khalghat site where Madhya Pradesh Government had offered land to 407 families. Only 2 families had accepted the land. The top soil there is black. The people say that they have to dig 10 feet deep to find the cultivable land. The Government had not succeeded in persuading the oustees to accept the land. Hundreds of people on the spot complained before the GoM that the Government had not conducted a proper survey and offered the land without consulting the oustees. Shri Mohan Lal Sharma (resident of Gazipur, District Dharampuri) who spoke on behalf of oustees, complained before the members of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) that the Madhya Pradesh Government had acted in haste and allotted the land which was totally uncultivable. The members of the NVDA did not contradict Shri Mohan Lal. (మరింత…)

Polavaram Dam- Evicted & harassed మంగళవారం, నవం 18 2008 

The last crop


R Uma Maheshwari

R Uma Maheshwari
Rama Rao’s field won’t grow food anymore
Compensation fails to rehabilitate Polavaram’s displaced

The day Boragam Rama Rao saw the fresh stocks of his corn crop crushed by large excavators and crane tractors, he knew he had made that transition—from tribal farmer to tribal ‘beneficiary’. At least until he starts reconstructing his life all over again: with Rs 1.2 lakh and a piece of land as yet uncultivable. Rama Rao is the sarpanch of the Mamidigundi panchayat in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district. He has lost nearly a hectare (ha) of land to Indira Sagar Polavaram dam project across the river Godavari.

According to Andhra Pradesh government’s figures, the project will displace 276 villages in Khammam and East and West Godavari districts of the state.




And if the 2001 census is any indicator, 2,37,000 people face displacement—more than 50 per cent of them adivasis.

“Officials told us last year that it would take us eight to 10 years for the barrage dam to come up and we would not be evacuated until waters came in. They assured us that we could continue to farm our lands in Mamidigundi and also enjoy the relief and rehabilitation package,” Rama Rao said. This year, his village was among the first villages to accept the relief and rehabilitation package.

People regret the deal now. “The government acquired more than 80 ha from our village. We were given barely 65 ha as compensation at the relief and rehabilitation colony in Gunjavaram,” Rama Rao lamented. “Back at Mamidigundi, all my crops were rain-fed. I got 40 bags of paddy per acre as the first and 30 to 40 bags of corn for the second crop. The authorities have not compensated me for the damage to my standing crops because they say I have taken the relief and rehabilitation package. They placed orders of arrest (on charges of criminal trespass on government land) when we went to harvest the last crop. At least they could have allowed us to enjoy that last yield from our land,” he continued.

R&R colony

At the relief and rehabilitation colony at Gunjavaram, Boragam Buchiraju was supervising the construction of a new home. He was in a rush to complete the job; he had to start preparing the fields (part of the compensation package) a few kilometers away.

The Buchiraju home under construction

Buchiraju’s father, Kamaraju, is bit of an exception. No other Mamidigundi resident has begun constructing a home at Gunjavaram. Many have already used up the compensation money in bribing officials, paying back earlier loans and in purchasing immediate necessities. Even Kamaraju has spent Rs 80,000 of the Rs 1.2 lakh given for house construction in just putting up a basement.

With the price of bricks, sand, iron and cement hitting the roof in the last few months, many wonder if they will reach that point of laying the foundation.

Kamaraju said to begin agricultural activities afresh on the new lands they would need to invest a minimum of Rs 15,000; then there is the cost of seeds, fertilizers and labour. Even the daily bus or shared autorickshaw trips between the relief and rehabilitation land in Gunjavaram and Mamidigundi cost at least Rs 40 a day. “We would have to spend double of what we spent on our fields in Mamidigundi,” Rama Rao said. “Fields in Gunjavaram do not have Mamidigundi’s water retention capacity, he explained and added that the farmers will have to pay three times the labour cost to make the land cultivable.

But Kamaraju and Rama Rao are still somewhat fortunate. Consider the plight of Boragam Pandamma, a landless labourer. “They gave my family Rs 1.7 lakh. Would it last till we start building the house there? The labour costs of just a verandah and a room is around Rs 2 lakh. Cement and bricks are as dear as gold. When we question the officials, they ask us to manage within that amount.”



Source: Down to Earth, 18 November 2008


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