The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday (March 16) put a stay on demolishing houses in villages affected by the Indira Sagar Polavaram Irrigation project (the Polavaram multi-purpose project) in East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh.
Search for Action and Knowledge of Tribal Initiative (Sakti), a non-profit organization, had knocked at the doors of the HC last week, seeking a stay on eviction and demolition of villages in the Schedule V areas of East and West Godavari districts.
The Polavaram multipurpose project, a proposed dam on the Godavari river, is likely to come up between East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh and Khammam district in Telangana.
The Central Water Commission cleared the project in 1982. In 2005, the Andhra Pradesh High Court put a stay on the project because the government of the day had not got necessary clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The project got environment clearance a few day later.
Conceived in the 1940s when the present day Andhra Pradesh was part of the Madras Presidency, Polavaram remains an unfulfilled dream of the people of coastal Andhra.
While conceding the demand for statehood to Telangana, the UPA government had offered a few incentives to compensate the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh for losing out capital Hyderabad to Telangana. Declaring Polavaram as national project was one of the inducements offered in AP Reorganisation Act of 2004. This meant that the central government will build the project.
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project stated that 276 villages and over 1.77 lakh people will be affected by the ambitious project. About 15 villages have been evicted and demolished since 2016, said Sivaramakrishan, the petitioner in the case.
Contradicting Sivaramakrishan’s claim, the counsel of the Andhra Pradesh Water Resource Department told the court that no eviction took place. The High Court has now asked the Andhra government to give a written reply on March 24, when the case will be heard again. Till then, the process of eviction has been put on hold.
Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, an Andhra Pradesh-based organization working for tribal rights, said, “Even after 75 years of independence, the tribal communities were being forced to vacate their villages without proper resettlement and rehabilitation. So we welcome the High Court’s order.”