The nod given by Parliament to the AP Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill is just the first step towards smoothening the path for execution of the long-pending Polavaram multi-purpose project, intended to mainly benefit the Krishna-Godavari basin in the now residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. In doing so, the NDA government has implemented a promise by the UPA and backed by the BJP at the time of bifurcating Andhra Pradesh early this year. But, the manner in which the present regime went about is no different from the clumsiness with which the then UPA government handled the bifurcation issue.
Polavaram—conceived over 50 years ago and grounded two decades ago—represents a few of the many problems involved in the grand plan of interlinking rivers. The objections to it are not over the project per se, but the design. Smaller in size at 39m compared to Tehri (260m) and Bhakra (225m), Polavaram will go down in India’s history as the largest land submergence and displacement project. Apart from 65,000 hectares of forestland set to be submerged, it involves displacement of 1.7 lakh tribals. Telangana as well as neighbouring Odisha and Chhattisgarh are questioning this aspect and suggesting alternative designs to entail less displacement. That the views of the Telangana government should have been sought before the state’s boundaries are altered is another point.
Given the context and our track record in rehabilitation, it is natural that concerns would be raised on behalf of tribals and other affected parties. Considering that the project is already facing legal wrangles, it would have been wiser if the Centre brought together the chief ministers concerned before moving ahead. While projects of this nature—Polavaram envisages not just irrigation but also hydropower generation and augmentation of drinking/industrial water supply—are needed, it is imperative that stakeholders arrive at an agreement, lest such issues become only a vehicle for politicians to stoke emotions.