Polavaram project: Andhra high court stays eviction, demolition in affected areas

Down to Earth | Ishan Kukreti | March 16, 2021

At least 15 villages in two districts of the state have been demolished since 2016

The Andhra Pradesh High Court stayed the demolition of houses in villages falling in the way of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Irrigation project, popularly called the Polavaram multi-purpose project, in East and West Godavari districts of the state.

The court was hearing a petition filed against eviction and demolition of villages in the Schedule V areas of the two districts March 8, 2021. The petition was filed by Andhra Pradesh-based environmental justice non-profit Search for Action and Knowledge of Tribal Initiative (Sakti).

Polavaram multipurpose project, a storage scheme for the Godavari, aims to build a dam at Polavaram between East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh and Khammam district in Telangana.

The project was given a hydrological clearance in 1982 by the Central Water Commission. In August 2005, the Andhra Pradesh High Court issued a stay order on all work related to the project, on grounds that the government had not obtained the necessary clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The project was revived in October 2005, after it received an environment clearance.

The Polavaram project was accorded national status in 2014 in the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Act and its design was changed. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project stated that 276 villages will be affected by the project. As many as 177,275 people live in these villages.

At least 15 villages in the east and west Godavari districts in the submergence zone of the project have been evicted and demolished since 2016, according to Sivaramakrishan, the petitioner in the case.

Villagers were evicted from Sitaram village in Devipattanam block of West Godavari and their houses demolished last week.

The counsel of the Andhra Pradesh Water Resource Department, however, told the court that no eviction took place. To this, the court directed the advocate representing the respondent authorities to produce in writing his reply on March 24. The court stayed the eviction proceedings till then.

A 2015 High Court order had stated that until the provisions for rehabilitation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR) were implemented, the fixation of gates of the dam could not take place.

Sivaramakrishan said:

“The implementation of LARR and settling of claims under the Forest Rights Act has been ignored. They are forcing people out of their houses and demolishing them in front of their eyes.” 

Forest dwellers, under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) [FRA] Act, 2006, cannot be displaced unless their rights have been settled under the law. The petitioner, however, told the court that 520 individual claims covering an extent of 2,773.02 acres were pending at sub-divisional level committee in Chintoor and VR Puram blocks.

As many as 1,382 community claims covering an extent of 4,966 acres were pending in Khammam, Kothagudem, Palvancha and Bhadrachalam divisions in Telangana, he added.

This was among the largest displacements in the country, said Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, an Andhra Pradesh-based non-profit working on tribal rights while welcoming the court intervention.

He added that even after 75 years of independence, the tribal communities were being forced to vacate their villages without proper resettlement and rehabilitation.