Sunday, June 15, 2014

All India Fact-finding Report on Polavaram Dam Project

All India Fact-finding Report on Polavaram Dam Project

Preliminary Report

An all India Fact-finding team comprising Dr. BD Sharma, Former National Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Dr. Jayashankar, former Vice-chancellor, Kakatiya University, Dr. I. Thirumali, Reader in History, Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, G N Saibaba, Lecturer in English, University of Delhi, Shirish Medhi, Social Activist from Mumbai, Dr. Gopinath, Eminent Cardiologist, Andhra Pradesh, Rona Wilson, Research Scholar, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Ajay Mishra, Reporter, Sunday Post (Hindi), Suresh Kumar, Advocate, Hyderabad, Ch. Prabhakar, Advocate, Hyderabad and Ravichandra, Teacher, AP Government Residential Schools. The team toured across 9 mandals in the districts of Khammam, East and West Godavari districts that are to be affected by the Polavaram Dam Project between 3nd March and 6th March, 2007.

The team spent 4 days in and around the site of the proposed Polavaram Dam touring extensively in all nine Dam-affected mandals. First the members arrived at Hyderabad on the 2 March, 2007. The team proceeded to Bhadrachalam on the following day and from there it divided into batches to conduct surveys on all the mandals. It had extensive discussions with the people of various villages and sarpanches. It also met the various organizations formed to fight against the question of displacement of lives and livelihoods. The team felt the need for further extensive studies in the affected areas at regular intervals taking into consideration the enormity of the situation with the threat of displacement of vast sections of the people.

Our findings:

1. Damning the people; damning the procedures; damning the law

The work of digging of canals by the government of Andhra Pradesh started even before permission is accorded to construction of the Dam. The modus operandi of the government so far without any procedures and norms spending crores for digging the canals have forced one to believe that ultimately it is going to serve the interests of the contractor lobby.

2. No Permission accorded so far from any government agency

The land acquisition has begun even before it could be known whether the projects would get permission or not from the Central Water Commission, the Forest Department, the Environment Department, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and other relevant departments and agencies. No permission has been so far given by the Central Water Commission. In fact the Supreme Court had asked the state of Andhra Pradesh to comply with the directives of the Central Water Commission. Contrary to this the AP government has been filing contradictory statements with different government institutions from which it has to get the necessary and mandatory clearance.

3. Gram Sabhas bypassed: Politics of manipulation and coercion

The Government has not gone to the people in the Scheduled areas which are mostly the project affected area. They have not been consulted nor their due consent been taken before proceeding with the acquisition of land for the construction of the dam. The entire area that will submerge when the dam gets finally constructed comes under provision of the 5th schedule of the constitution. In most of the villages the mandatory Gram Sabha meetings did not take place to discuss and deliberate on the issue of Polavaram. Wherever it has happened it was facilitated under the shadow of heavy police deployment with a battery of government officials threatening the villagers with dire consequences. The Gram Sabhas of these areas are the supreme decision making bodies. Without the consent of these bodies any other notification of any government institution—including the aforementioned bodies—stands null and void.

When in Maredubaka village in Kukunoor Mandal, people passed resolutions against Polavaram dam and the R & R package offered by the government those resolutions were ignored, suppressed and manipulated. Some Mandal Praja Parishads (MPP) also have passed resolutions against the construction of the dam but time and again over the last one year the officials have not accepted or recorded the written resolutions sent by the MPPs as told by Kantepale Raju, Sarpanch of Maredubaka and also by the sarpanch of Amaravaram of Kukkunoor mandal.

The District Collector is not supposed to sit in the Gram Sabha. But in Paidipakka village in Polavaram mandal the district collector Mr. Luv Aggarwal sat in the Gram Sabha along with the RDO, BDO, MRO, PO and others and a huge posse of armed police force at the background. There he told the people that the government can’t pay more than 1.3 lakhs and the villagers had no other option but to leave. This village has a sizeable section of the non-tribals and since they don’t have any legal entitlement they are the main targets of coercion. Once they budge the tribals can follow.

Secretly tribals are called individually to the RDO offices and are threatened to sign the papers. They are told that they have to inevitably move out and that is no way out for them. Those villagers who are refusing to budge have been targeted by striking off their ration cards, cutting of the power supply to the villages and also demolishing their roads.

It is evident that the government of Andhra Pradesh has been keen to hide facts—from the people of the affected areas in particular and the society at large—than the things that they have so far revealed about the various facets of the project. It is intriguing that why the government is operating under complete secrecy when it claims that the project is the answer to all the water and power problems faced by the state.

4. R & R Package: Old tales of Divide and Rule, Secrecy and Mystery 

The compensation package offered by the government varied from village to village, tribal to non-tribal and last but not the least, the nature of the land holdings. It has more loopholes than concrete proposals on paper. In many cases it operates by word of mouth than through any documented intervention. It is the good old strategy of divide and rule by manipulating on the vulnerability of the targeted population.

The people of the project affected area, whether tribal or non-tribal are unaware of the rehabilitation package which is touted by the AP government as one of the best packages ever made in the world! Yet no sarpanch of the affected villages could give us a copy of the R&R package spoke volumes of the secrecy and mystery behind the politics of R & R. It should be noted that since 1947 not a single R & R package of any major displacement has been fulfilled by the government.

Some of the absentee landlords in the area who are non-tribals will definitely get a good compensation many times higher than what the government has so far offered to the common tribal masses. One glaring example is that of Mr. Totakura Venkattappaiah who owns 500 acres of fertile land at Amaravaram village in Kukkunoor mandal. He and his family lives in Hyderabad. Most of this land from the 500 acres belongs to the Koya tribals. The so-called compensation will come in the name of the tribals who have been living as agricultural labourers but the money will go to the coffers of the absentee landlord!

The government also has used different tactics to lure the people in favour of rehabilitation by giving them packages which are at best illusory. For instance, in Kondukota village which comprises of 50 percent Koyas and 50 percent Malas (SC) there has been neither official notification nor survey. Yet the officials have approached the people with various packages. They have offered them to hold land at the project affected area (i.e. their present place of stay) as well as the newly promised location of rehabilitation! The local MLA took the Empowering Committee appointed by the Supreme Court to only those places where the people have ostensibly supported the projects.

5. Compensation amounts released in two villages: Administration’s fraud and People’s anguish 

In two villages Vinjaram (Kukkunoor mandal) and Rudramakota (Boorgampadu mandal) the first acts of acquisition of land for project took place. The compensation was released to the acquired cultivated and fertile lands. The team came across a big group of people at Rudramakota, Velerupadu mandal, sitting in the local temple and settling the dispute that has surfaced after the cheques were encashed and the actual money was being distributed. The size of the amount was decided by the village elders. Thus Kanthi Reddi Punnamma, a 65 year old woman got 58000 rupees. This was in return of the 2 acres of fertile land that was relinquished permanently for the dam. She and her family lived off this fertile land for many generations. For her 2 acres Punnamma was given 230000 rupees. At the end of the day Punnamma was left with a meager 58000 after dividing the amount with her sons and another major stake holder the local Cooperative Bank which had the lion’s share: a good 50 percent of the total amount! This 50 percent covers the agricultural loans which were actually struck off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year! The officials (MRO, MDO, Collector) promised the villagers that the amount of the loans would not be deducted from the compensation amount. This was one of the main agreements between the villagers and the government before they agreed for the compensation to part with their land. But once the compensation was awarded, all the banks queued up with their knives to demand their pound of flesh. Only the landlords who had the land under false names had the last laugh. The villagers reported with anguish how the land records were manipulated and outsiders got the benefits.

6. Deceit and domination of the people of Telengana 

Yet another act of deceit and domination over the people of Telengana. More than 80 percent of the water of Godavari flows through Telengana. Significantly, the mammoth project has little to offer when it comes to water/power sharing to the already drought prone region that Telengana is. It is natural for the people of Telengana to suspect the unwarranted haste shown by the Andhra Pradesh government to push through the project flouting all norms and procedures before the formation of the Telengana State. They strongly believe that the formation of the Telengana state would be an impediment to the Polavaram project and hence against the interest of the Andhra Pradesh government.

7. Protests prevented through repression and coercion 

The people who have protested against the construction have been threatened by the officials belonging to the office of the collector, the RDO, BDO, MRO, PO etc. The people who sat on Dharna from the Chegondipally village in Polavaram mandal have been charged of treason. Mr. Sonam Raju of the same village had to spend three months in the Rajamundry prison and warrant has been issued against five of his fellow villagers for allegedly burning the huts at the construction site of the spill way. Another Mr. Bangu Anil Kumar of Kondu Kota village was also arrested and released after 17 days for opposing the project.

8. Polavaram: Another ‘Modern Temple’ of Colossal Waste 

The Polavaram project with its projected costs and benefits is a colossal waste of public money. It would destroy the rich flora and fauna of the forests of the Eastern Ghats on either side of the river Godavari in the catchment areas of the dam. It will uproot the lives and livelihoods of some of the oldest tribal communities—the Koyas and Konda Reddys—who are the inhabitants of these regions. Even according to the official estimates 236000 people living in 276 villages would be displaced by the dam in Andhra Pradesh (including a few of them in Chhattisgarh and Orissa). About 50 percent as per government statistics belong to the scheduled tribes and 15 percent to the scheduled castes.

All the 9 mandals that will submerge come under the scheduled areas. In fact the Polavaram project displaces the largest number of people—more than 2 lakh tribals among them—as well as some of richest of biodiversity in the world. Tribals cannot live in non-forest areas. They will lose their constitutionally guaranteed rights under the scheduled area, if they are rehabilitated. They will lose their traditional strength and culture outside their natural habitat. They are aware of this and they steadfastly refuse to move away from their villages and forests.

The ownership of land and forest produce is not fixed in these areas. Traditional sharing methods are more persistent. No R & R package will do justice to the tribal communities here.

It is amazing and at the same time unfortunate and disappointing to note that the media and the civil society have written very little about this! It is unequivocally the largest displacement and destruction of natural flora and fauna in Post-47 India.

As recommendations what flow out evidently from the initial findings are that:

1. The government of Andhra Pradesh should immediately come out with a White Paper on all issues related to the Polavaram Dam Project. All construction work including that of canals should be stopped forthwith till a proper review is made after a discussion on the White Paper by the people of the affected areas, civil society and experts of peoples’ organizations.

2. The President of India through the Governor of Andhra Pradesh should seek a report on the impact of the project on the tribals in the area as per the 5th Schedule of the Constitution of India. Such a report should be made by experts who have worked on the issues of the tribals including various laws related with the 5th Schedule. Till the Presidential review is done all construction work related to the dam should be suspended.

3. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy package announced by the Andhra Pradesh government and the ground realities of the use of force and coercion by the local administration on the people in all the 9 mandals should be enquired into by an independent committee comprising of experts who have knowledge on the various aspects of tribal life and livelihood.

4. The central government should initiate immediately a process to study the alternative plans for utilizing the waters in Godavari as well as other rivers and tributaries in Andhra Pradhesh made by expert committees and peoples’ organizations.

5. A judicious and acceptable plan to redistribute the waters in the river Godavari among the Andhra, Telengana and Rayalaseema regions.

8th March 2007.

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