Chandrababu Naidu's pet Polavaram project becomes testing ground for TDP

By Laxmi Devi Polavaram (West Godavari), Apr 9 (PTI) The struggle of the ruling TDP in Andhra Pradesh to get central funds for the Polavaram Irrigation project could be a blessing in disguise for opposition YSRCP, which is looking to woo people affected by the project and disgruntled over compensation. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), once a part of the NDA has been locked in a struggle with the Centre over release of funds for Polavaram, which has been declared a national project and is considered a lifeline for a resource-starved Andhra Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election rallies in the state has accused the TDP of slowing down the project. Chief Minister and TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu's retort to Modi is that the state is determined to complete the project within the stipulated time despite throttling of central funds. Though 68.5 per cent of the work is complete, rehabilitation and resettlement, including compensation, has been slow due to a delay in release of central funds, according to a government official. YSR Congress (YSRCP) chief Jaganmohan Reddy -- considered the 'B' team of the BJP -- is trying to woo 98,000 affected families and has promised villagers additional compensation if his party's candidates in adjoining East and West Godavari districts win.In this rift between the state and the Centre, other political parties, especially the YSRCP, are making an attempt to woo the displaced villagers, whose land were acquired for the irrigation project.The Polavaram Irrigation project will irrigate 2.91 lakh hectares, generate 960 MW of power, and fulfil water needs of industries and 540 villages in Andhra Pradesh.Fifty per cent of the affected population are tribals, 15 per cent Muslims, and the rest are from backward classes. "We were promised a compensation of Rs 10 lakh per family unit as opposed to Rs 6 lakh sanctioned by the TDP government," a resident of Koyiagadam village said, expressing a popular sentiment.Deputy Executive Engineer of the project, Balakrishna Murthy, told PTI that "about 68.5 per cent of the works have been completed so far, and the rest will be finished by December 2019. The dam's construction work is progressing at a fast pace." However, rehabilitation and resettlement has not sped up much in the absence of central funds. "If the government of India releases the compensation money,we can complete the project sooner," he said.Since the Centre declared it as a national project in 2014, Rs 11,210 crore has been spent on it. The Centre has reimbursed Rs 6,727 crore to the state government, Murthy added.Polavaram is being built at a total cost of Rs 57,000 crore. This is one project where the cost of relocation and rehabilitation, Rs 33,000 crore, is higher than that of the main irrigation project, which is estimated at Rs 20,000 crore. The cost of the dam being built for a power house is pegged at Rs 4,500 crore."The dam cannot be complete unless the affected families are resettled. We have clear instructions from chief minister to meet deadlines, irrespective of the flow of funds," Murthy said.The villagers impacted by the Polavaram project are spread across many state assemblies and parliamentary constituencies.These include Poluvaram, Rajamundry, East and West Godavri, Elluru and Araku.Unlike other places where people are opposed to the construction of dams, villagers, in this case, are by and large in its favour as the right and left canals of the project will take water from the Godavri to several of parched districts. Besides, it will also recharge the Krishna river by pumping water into the Prakasham Barrage. This will further take 80 TMC water to Rayaseelam regions. Though the project was under contemplation since 1941, works started in 2005. The efforts to complete it gained momentum in 2015, following the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh. Nearly 4,000 labourers involved in the project hail from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. With the announcement of election schedule many of the labourers have applied for leave to go and exercise their franchise in their respective states. "Since the polls are happening in a phased manner, we will be able send people on leave in phases. But it will still impact about 10 per cent of the work till polling," says SKM Chisti, one of the supervisors.Electioneering may delay the overall project by about two weeks, but work is on in shifts between 8 am and 8 pm. Through shifts, officials are ensuring no delays in implementing the project that is being monitored by the chief minister through video cameras and drones. PTI LUX ANBANBANB