Escalation of an old dispute with Andhra Pradesh over the Polavaram dam project has come as a much-needed respite for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who is grappling growing dissidence in the BJD. It has also given Naveen ammo to hit back at Opposition Congress which is cornering the CM over a host of issues, including Coalgate, for recommending private parties for coal block allocation.
Even as the BJD made it a campaign against the Centre, the Opposition Congress and the BJP have asked Naveen to stop shedding crocodile tears over the matter. The BJD organised a public meeting at Motu on the eve of the Monsoon Session of the Assembly, to protest construction of the dam by the Andhra Pradesh Government overlooking opposition from the State.
The project will result in large-scale submergence in Malkangiri district, a tribal-dominated district affected by Left- wing extremism (LWE), Naveen said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently. Naveen said the proposal of the Andhra Pradesh government to have embankments is not a sound one and cannot be treated as a measure to contain the submergence within the river banks during floods. The issue has generated a lot of heat in the Monsoon Session. Heated exchanges were witnessed over the issue in the Assembly on Saturday with the Opposition parties demanding an allparty meeting over the issue.
The crux of the BJD attack is that the Centre is ignoring Odisha’s demand as it is a non-Congress-ruled State. Stating that no public hearing has so far been conducted on the project, the CM said the construction of the project would adversely affect forest land and habitations of tribal people.
Requesting the Prime Minister’s personal intervention in the matter, Naveen said orders should be issued to the Andhra Pradesh government not to proceed with the tendering process till all the cases, pending in this regard in Supreme Court, are disposed of. The CM had in an earlier letter on July 18, 2009, requested the Prime Minister not to allow construction of the project in view of the pending cases and interlocutory applications, filed by the Odisha Government, in Supreme Court.
The first conceptual proposal for the project came from the erstwhile Madras Presidency in July 1941. Later Diwan Bahadur L Venkata Krishna Iyer, the then chief engineer in the Presidency’s irrigation department, made the first survey of the project site and made a definitive proposal for constructing a reservoir at Polavaram. In 1980, then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh T Anjaiah laid the foundation stone for the project. However, the project remained a non-starter until 2004 when the YS Rajasekhara Reddy-led government came to power. In 2004, the government of Andhra Pradesh sanctioned Rs 1,320 crore for the project.