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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Jairam misled the house to give a push to Polavaram Project
"A short-time green crusader Jairam Ramesh is perhaps coming to his own colours. One of the key persons who advocated for economic liberalisation in India, Jairam became the green terror for a while by putting a halt to the projects of Vedanta, POSCO, JSPL in Orissa and many other projects in other parts. But his sudden turn to uphold the interests of TATA, POSCO, Jindal Steel and Powers in Orissa and a few other corporate houses in other parts has given him the image of a green traitor. Recently, his presentation of facts about Polavaram Project in the upper house of Indian Parliament has come as another blame for misleading the house."
Bibhuti Pati
   

In response to a Short Notice Question in Rajya Sabha on the controversial Polavaram Project of Andhra Pradesh, the Union Environment & Forests Minister for State Shri Jairam Ramesh, whose basic statutory role is that of a regulator, acted like a promoter and promissory statement in the house on March 4, 2011 that he would call a meeting of the Chief Ministers of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to clear the path for environment clearance to the project. Mr Ramesh and his promise were more in line to promote the project that was in clean conflict with his statutory role as a regulator. While role of the Environment ministry is to ensure that statutory and legal procedures are followed before a project is considered for environment clearance, the Minister clearly acted against his statutory role by making such a promise.

The Minister should instead be concerned that the Polavaram project authorities have not submitted a single half yearly compliance report since the project was given a clearance in October 2005 and, the irony is, his ministry has taken no action yet. He should also be concerned about the embankment that the ministry cleared was not part of the original plan and project proposal.

When there has been no study or assessment of the possible impacts or viability of the proposed embankment, the question thrown by Jairam against himself is, on which basis his ministry gave the forest clearance in July 2010?

During the debate on March 4, 2011 the minister also informed the Parliament that “the final stage-II forest clearance for the Polavaram Project was given way back in July, 2010” and never mentioned about non-compliance of FRA (Forest Rights Act) while giving the clearance. The minister seemed to be misleading the Parliament here.

 

It has been brought to the attention of the Minister by water management expert Himanshu Thakkar that the forest clearance was given by the MoEF in July 2010 without settling issues related to the Rights of dwellers living in the affected villages as required under the FRA. Gram Sabha resolutions to that effect from seven villages to be affected by proposed forest diversion for the Polavaram project have been sent to the Minister and also to the members of the statutory Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) constituted under the Forest Conservation Act. Similar resolutions from additional fifteen villages have been sent from Andhra Pradesh. Following Mr. Thakkar’s letter, Minister had responded that he would get the issues examined. The very next day, on Nov 22, 2010, Mr Ramesh himself wrote to the then AP CM Shri K Rosaiah saying, “the matter that has been made available to me clearly seems to indicate that the claims of local tribal communities do not seem to have been settled. This is a very serious matter.”

 

The Minister, however, having received no response from the AP Chief Minister, wrote again to the new AP CM Kiran Kumar Reddy on Jan 25, 2011 adding, “I am awaiting a response from the state government.”

 

In the meantime, following a detailed representation including gram sabha resolutions to all the FAC members, the statutory committee in its meeting on Oct 25, 2010 (minutes are available on MEF website) decided, “The FAC recommended that these complaints may be sent to the Ministry of Environment & Forests to take appropriate action at the Ministry level. The Ministry may give special consideration to the following:

 

Examine the alleged FRA violations and request the State Government to provide details on FRA compliance as per the law and circular of Aug. 2009; Examine the issue of forest land diversion for the embankments which are planned to prevent the submergence in adjoining States (the existing project report makes no mention of forest diversion for embankment even though it requires huge forest land and needs a special mention or, at least, an inclusion) in the Project proposal; Examine the discrepancies between the facts submitted when seeking clearance from the FAC and EAC respectively and take action if necessary.”

 

FAC being a statutory body, the state government has to satisfy the committee on the issues specifically raised by it. This is yet to happen.

 

Under these circumstances, the forest clearance given to the project cannot be considered final and the minister should have brought this issue to the notice of the upper house. Not mentioning these issues while talking about the Forest clearance is tantamount to misleading the house.

 

Here, it may also be added that the Central Electricity Authority is yet to give concurrence to the power component of the Polavaram project. Such a concurrence is a statutory requirement under section 8 of Electricity Act 2003. The CEA, in response to an RTI query has informed SANDRP that the application of concurrence from Polavaram was returned to the developer without any concurrence due to issues related to hydrology and because proposed installed capacity of 960 MW is unviable. The proposal to increase the cost of the project to Rs. 16010.45 crores from Rs. 10151.04 crores was also not accepted by the advisory Committee on Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi Purpose Projects in its meeting on Oct 27 2010 following intervention by Joint Secretary (Exp), Dept of Expenditure. A number of petitions are also pending in courts against the project. The Project was earlier given funding under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) under erroneous claims. The Command area of the Polavaram project also significantly coincides with the command areas of Pushkara and Tadipudi Lift Irrigation Schemes, both of which are also getting funds under AIBP. CAG has already raised questions about all these. Almost all the claimed clearances of the project seem to be raising a lot more questions on many fronts.  

Under these circumstances, when the project looks to be moving against all laws of the land, consideration of the project by the Union government under National Project scheme (as stated by the minister in Parliament) and making it eligible for 90% central funding seems to be a more unlawful act pursued by the government itself.

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