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The Polavaram Project: When will the dream become a reality?

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Dr. Vasu reddy graduated MBBS from kurnool medical college , post graduation from All India institute of medical sciences, New Delhi and surgical oncology from kidwai memorial institute of oncology. He has good knowledge in history, economics and politics.

The basis of river or basin interlinking projects was initially conceptualized by Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiyar, 100 years earlier but the government has started in this 21st century. The per capita annual water availability has declined from 5,177 cubic meter in 1951 to 1,508 cubic metre in 2014 and is expected to decrease further to 1,465 cubic meter by 2025 and 1,235 cubic meter by 2050. India would be declared water stressed country if per capita water availability decreases to 1000-1,100 cubic meter as per the report submitted by Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR). With growing population, decreasing underground resources and deforestation there is a need for water conservation and water diversion from areas of excess to areas of needy.

Andhra pradesh stood as “Rice bowl of India” because of great irrigation projects constructed 120 years back by Sir. Arthur cotton Prakasam Barrage, the Dowleswaram Barrage (Dhavaleshvaram Dam) and the Kurnool Cuddappah Canal (K. C. Canal) which irrigated lakhs of acres of land. Polavaram project is supposed to solve most of the water problems of not only to Godavari districts but by interlinking even Rayalaseema districts and Visakhapatnam.

As part of need of river interlinking projects, the plan is to divert excess water from Godavari basin to Krishna basin which is a water deficit zone. Yearly 3000 TMC of water from Godavari river is let into Bay of Bengal as per estimates of 2017. As per Inter state agreement between Maharashtra, Madhya pradesh (Chhattisgarh), Orissa and Bachawat tribunal agreement 80 TMC of Godavari water can be diverted to Krishna river. Andhra Pradesh government by Pattiseema Lift irrigation system 24 pumps were installed to pump 8,500 cusecs of water and pipelines laid for 54 kms connecting to the right main canal of polavaram with an estimated cost of 1300 crore and was completed in 1 year.

Pothireddy padu head regulator, Handri Neeva lift from Srisailam reservoir will deliver water to rayalaseema districts. Pattiseema Lift would not become redundant even after the Polavaram Project is completed as it would be used during the dry season (December to June months) when the Polavaram right canal is unable to receive water by gravity due to fall in the Polavaram reservoir level below its full canal supply level of 41.15 metres (135 ft) (mean sea level)MSL. The dead storage (nearly 119 {thousand million cubic feet} tmcft below the 41.15 MSL) out of the 194 tmcft gross storage of the Polavaram reservoir would be released to the down stream Godavari river and transferred to the Prakasam barrage by the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation. It would further enable to supply additional Krishna water to the Rayalaseema region by eliminating water support to the Krishna barrage throughout the monsoon year.

Godavari has the highest flood water 36 lakh cusecs/year higher than Ganga river 25 lakh cusecs /year. Though world bank is against major and medium irrigation projects in 1997, the advantages of this huge project are:
1.Barrages will be useful only for limited storage capacity when flow is good
2.A barrage may not be full in non-monsoon periods for irrigation during Rabi season
3. Small barrages may not help for supply water for drinking purposes, supply to distant cities, interlink rivers, hydroelectric power generation .

History of Polavaram:
Polovaram a multipurpose project was first proposed by Diwan bahadur L. Venkatakrishna Iyer who was a chief engineer of irrigation department. He proposed full reservoir level (FRL)of 150 feet with hydroelectric project of 40 MW and with an estimated cost of 6.4 crores. He further modified it and proposed FRL of +170 feet and storage capacity of 300TMC in 1942 with a hydroelectric capacity of 75 MW. The project was named as ramapada sagar project as the waters are supposed to touch feet of lord seetharamaswamy at Badrachalam. The plan was to build the Ramaprasad sagar in last hills of eastern ghats before it drains into plains. The total cost of the project was Rs. 129 crore. With the objection from the neighbouring states on the height of the dam, it was decided that the dam height be restricted to FLR of + 150 feet. Andhra pradesh , Madhya Pradesh (Present Chhattisgarh) and Orissa signed an agreement on this in April, 1980 and its been filed with centre water commission (CWC). The salient features of the agreement as a part of recommendations of Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) are:

a. to maintain the dam height of 150 feet
b. to pay compensation for the submerged areas
c. to protect areas above 150 feet in other stated by building embankments or by paying compensation
d. Spillway discharging capacity of 36 lakh cusecs at pond level height of 140 feet and not less than 20 lakh cusecs at pond level of 130 feet.

A Detailed project report (DPR) was submitted in 1987 and was later updated in 2000. Due to lack of funds the project didn’t come to start till 2004 until Dr. Y.S Rakasekhar reddy decided to pickup this mammoth project under “Jala Yagnam” and was named as “Indira Sagar” Polavaram project with a budget proposal of Rs. 8,261 crores. Without taking proper clearances from centre, foundation stone was laid for right main canal which was later stopped.

Site clearance was taken on September 19,2005. Environment clearance by public hearing taken at 5 places by Andhra Pradesh pollution control board and approval obtained on October 25, 2005. As DPR was already provided , CWC approval was obtained on September 28, 2005. Forest clearance, clearance from ministry of tribal affairs, clearance from central wildlife board and technical advisory committee clearance were taken. The projected cost at the time 2005-2006 was 10151.04 crores. Investment clearance was accorded by Planning Commission vide their letter No. 2(168)/2004-WR dated 25 Feb. 2009. The revised Cost Estimate of Polavaram Project was examined and finalized by CWC for revised cost Rs. 16010.45 crore in 2010-11.

The work on the project began in April 2006 and was expected to be completed by February 2007. After completion of 30% work on excavation of the canals ,15% of the spillway works and 1.78% of Earth cum fill dam (ECRF) , the work was halted in May 2006 to seek clearance from the Ministry of Forests and Environment. There was a case filed by government of Orissa in 2007 and government of Chhattisgarh in 2011 against clearance given by various central agencies. There was a committee appointed by supreme court under Mr. M.Gopalakrishnan who along with members of CWC visitied the polavaram and gave the report suggesting the project is within the tune of approved project and GWDT provisions.

The work stopped again in February, 2011 when the Ministry of environment and Forest has asked to stopped the work as government has not conducted the prerequisite of carrying public hearings in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The MOEF further cleared giving 6 months period to complete this in April 2013. In 2014, after AP bifurcation under AP reorganisation act it was considered as national project. On May, 2014, the cabinet cleared the proposal to set up Polavaram Project Authority and May, 2014 an ordinance passed to merge the submerged 7 Mandals of Khammam district into Andhra pradesh state). Polavaram, which is estimated to cost Rs 58,000 crore, was declared a national project in 2016 (Fig. 1 and 2).

The Final Project:
The final project details are the project that needs to be constructed near Ramayyapet village of Polavaram mandal. It will provide irrigation of additional 2.91 lakh hectares and a hydropower capacity of 960 MW. The right canal will carry 23.44 TMC water for drinking and industrial supply of Visakhapatnam including the steel plant and the left canal carries 80 TMC waters to river krishna. In additional a total of 540 villages will be provided with drinking facilities. Indirasagar polavaram project was renamed as polavaram irrigation project by a government ordinance in July, 2015. (Fig. 3 ) It has following components:

1. Dam: Earth cum rock fill dam
2.Spillway: 54 gates
3. Hydroelectric power house
4. Left main canal of length 181.50 Kms and right main canal of length 174 kms
5. Availability of water in TMC: 301.38 TMC
5. Storage capacity :194.6 TMC


  1. Displacement of People: Researchers Tony Stewart and V Rukmini Rao, expected with this project around 4 lakh people can be displaced. The environment impact assessment of the project proposed 276 villages and 1,77,275 will be displaced. But if the increased population is taken into account and the people displaced along the canals take into account it comes to around 4,00,000. Tribals constitute around 50 % of the population and they come under 6th schedule of constitution requiring a presidential clearance which was not taken initially before the start of the project .
  2. Other submerged sites: It also deposits many archaeological sites, coal deposits, Papikonda national park and farm lands. Environmental clearance was obtained after a promise of Rs. 4,500 crore forest management plan and rehabilitation and resettlement covering 59,756 hectares lost under the project .
    3.Can It increase irrigation proposed areas :.Of the proposed 7.2 lakh acres which are supposed to be additionally be cultivated but 4 lakh acres of land under the left canal is already supplied by Tadipudi and Pushkaram lift irrigation systems. Also government of India proposed that 71% of right canal command areas are already under irrigation since 1999. Hence the overall , polavaram project may irrigate an additional land of 80,937 Hectares only.
    4.Flood threat: The initial approval of the design of Andhra Pradesh stood as “Rice bowl of India” because of great irrigation projects constructed 120 years back by Sir. Arthur cotton Prakasam Barrage, the Dowleswaram Barrage (Dhavaleshvaram Dam) and the Kurnool Cuddappah Canal (K. C. Canal) which irrigated lakh of acres of land. Polavaram project is supposed to solve most of the water problems not only to Godavari districts but by interlinking even Rayalaseema districts and Vizakhapatnam. Polavaram project is based on the details of 1980 and updated on 2005. As per this the probable maximum flood(PMF) was estimated at 1,02,000cumecs and spillway was designed to withhold this flow only. But a recent flood in 2006, which submerged 371 villages showed a PMF of 1,42,000 cumecs. The CWC has changed the dam design for an estimate of 1,42,000 cumecs but not assessed properly for the backwater damage affecting predominantly Malkangiri in Orissa.
    5.Divisive politics: Change in name of the project and cancellation of tenders allotted by previous government when the government changes has become quite often.
    6.Rehabitilation and resettlement: Of 371 inhabitants to be disturbed( West Godavari 137, East Godavari 234), 1,05,601 families (West Godavari-34,672; East Godavari 70,929) need help. But only 3,922 families were rehabilitated till now. Of the required 1,66,423.27 acres to be collected 1,10,823.92 acres have been done. For land pooling , and R and R Rs. 6,371.74 crore have been spent and a budget of 26,796.66 crore was estimated initially.
  3. Cancellation of tenders: Initially the tender for construction of earth cum rock fill dam was given to Transtroy company in 2013. Transtroy gave subcontracts to Bauer- L and T geo company for the diaphragm wall and Keller company for coffer dam foundation. Later in 2014 Telugu desam party came to power and the Transtroy continued to work . Being unhappy with the works of Transtroy the TDP government by LC- open method handed over the contract of Spill way, spill channel and ECRF dam to Navayuga company on nomination basis on Feb 17, 2018. Later the YSRCP government came to power and it cancelled the contract with Navayuga company in July 2019 and they filed a case leading to the delay in works . The state government also cancelled Rs.3,217 crore tender awarded to Navayuga engineering for hydel power project on September 4, 2019. This led to stoppage of works for a period of 3 months till November, 2019 where the work has started.
  4. Utilization certificates of the money spent was not yet submitted by the government to the centre. Of the Rs. 5,130 crore spent after declaring it as national project , the state had submitted audit reports for only Rs.3000 crore. (Fig.4). Its time for the government to leave all indifferences between various political parties, focus on the fast completion of polavaram, settle the R and R of the people affected and dedicate it to the people of Andhra pradesh which serves in drinking, agriculture, industrial and power generation.
Fig.1 History of Polavaram project

Fig.2 History of Polavaram project

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Dr. Vasu reddy graduated MBBS from kurnool medical college , post graduation from All India institute of medical sciences, New Delhi and surgical oncology from kidwai memorial institute of oncology. He has good knowledge in history, economics and politics.
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