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The Politics Around Polavaram

by Sharath
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Known as the Rama Pada Sagar Irrigation Project and renamed as the Indira Sagar Irrigation project during the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy-led Congress government, the Polavaram project has been the hotbed of politics since its inception. With the bifurcation of the State, the AP Reorganisation Act 2014 rechristened this project and this project is now known by the name of the village where the dam is being constructed – Polavaram.  

 

The initial expenditure of this project was around 10,000 crores during the Congress Government tenure (2004) and administrative approvals were allotted for construction, and with the slow pace of construction work, the contracts were ultimately terminated in 2009. The estimated cost of the entire project increased from Rs. 10,000 crore in 2004 to Rs. 16010.45 crore in 2009. The irrigation component of the project was estimated at Rs. 12294.40 crore, of which an expenditure of Rs. 5,135.87 crore was incurred inclusive of the assistance of Rs. 562.47 crore from the Central Government up to 31 March 2014. The Central Assistance was provided for the project under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Project (AIBP).

According to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, the Polavaram project was accorded with a National Project status. The TDP Government which assumed power post the State bifurcation gave it the highest importance to ensure speedy completion. On various occasions, former CM N. Chandrababu Naidu termed Polavaram as the lifeline of Andhra Pradesh. World-renowned companies like Larsen and Toubro, Bauer, Keller, Monton Hydraulik, Tensa Engineering were engaged in quality execution and speedy completion of the project.

The total expenditure incurred on the project was Rs. 15,363.79 crores out of which Rs. 10,227.92 crores was incurred between 2014-19 (TDP’s tenure); whereas the Government of India reimbursed only Rs. 6,727.264 crore.

In the year 2018, the TDP government submitted a Revised Cost Estimate (RCE) of Rs. 57,297 crore at the 2017-18 price level to the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the CWC has approved for Rs. 55,448.87 crores. This included the relief and rehabilitation (R&R) package of nearly Rs. 33,000 crores. 

Since Polavaram was declared as a national project, the Union Water Resources Ministry in 2016 informed the state government that it would bear the total cost of the Polavaram project by floating a special initiative through NABARD. The then AP Government Irrigation Secretary Shashi Bhushan Kumar reiterated the same sharing that the Union Government has agreed to provide 100% cost funding for the project which included the revised cost of relief and rehabilitation whereas the Hydropower project will be taken up by the State Government. 

The first gate of the dam was erected on 24 December 2018 and close to 70.83% of construction works were completed under the TDP regime. A man ahead of his times, the TDP Supremo made sure that the Polavaram project entered into the Guinness book of world records in January 2019 for the continuous pouring of 32,315.5 cubic meters of concrete into the spillway channel.

After assuming power in May 2019, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy announced that the project would be completed by 2021 and ordered for re-tendering of the project claiming irregularities in the allocation. In the last 18 months of YSRCP tenure, only 0.63% of works have been completed. Despite the dearth of evidence suggesting irregularities in the project, the government took up re-tendering and terminated the contract made with Navayuga Engineering Company Limited and signed a contract with Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) which quoted 12.6% less than the previous contractor.

The YSRCP government and Jagan Mohan Reddy Government are only focused on blaming the previous TDP regime even 18 months after coming to power in the State to cover their Government’s inefficiency in the completion of the project. 

The budgetary allocations of the YSRCP to reflect the same. In 2019-20, the government allocated Rs. 5254 crore and in 2020-21 the government allocated Rs. 4,804 crore for the project. Of these budgetary allocations, in 2019-20 a sum of Rs. 1200 crore was set aside for R&R and in 2020-21 again a sum of Rs. 1200 crore was earmarked for R&R measures. However, only a paltry figure of 600 crores for R&R was released by the government in May 2020. Thus, providing adequate relief only to 25% of the amount earmarked and leaving most of the remaining R&R households untouched.

According to murmurs on the ground, the YSRCP leaders are in line to obtain certain minor contract works from the MEIL.

The Union government’s latest decision of withdrawing financial support from the Polavaram project is another example of how the people of Andhra Pradesh are being made to suffer because of the present government’s spending habits. The Union Government has clarified that it would fund only the construction part of the project and is not responsible for the R&R of the project. The Revised Cost Committee (RCC) of the Government of India approved the project cost as Rs. 47,725.74 crore instead of Rs. 55,448.87 crore which was approved by the CWC. The Revised Cost Committee report was duly accepted by the Jal Shakti Ministry, however, the Ministry of Finance holds a contradictory view. According to the Ministry of Finance, the Government of India the estimated price level of 2013-14 should be taken into account but not the 2017-18 price estimates. As per the Finance Ministry’s decision the State government would get only Rs. 20,398.61 crore as per the 2013-14 estimates. If taken into consideration, the difference in estimated price would give the Andhra Pradesh government a sudden jolt of about Rs 27,000 crore.

The fate of Polavaram is largely linked to the politics around it and the YSRCP has left no stone unturned in reaping political benefits from every move, announcement, and decision. The Centre’s recent shock has left the YSRCP perplexed with no rational response to give. With a fund crunch as critical as that of Andhra Pradesh, the future of Polavaram projects remains uncertain and the committed timeline of June 2021 looks unrealistic.

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