Transparency demanded in a letter to Jairam Ramesh on Polavaram Project - Himanshu Thakkar

An open letter to the Minister of Environment and Forestry demanding transparency in the Polavaram project undertaken by the government

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From:
Himanshu Thakkar
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People,
c/o 86-D, AD block, Shalimar Bagh,
Delhi,

To: Shri Jairam Ramesh
Union Minister of State for Env and Forests (IC), New Delhi

Respected Sir,

I have just seen your letter dated Aug 18, 2010 to Orissa Chief Minister on the aboves subject, uploaded yesterday on MEF website.

  1. Your letter says that the Forest Clearance has been given to the Polavaram Project on July 28, 2010 is subject to the condition, "... no submergence and displacement of people including STs take place in Orissa and Chhattisgarh...". However, this condition is in complete contradiction with the environment clearance given by your ministry on Oct 25, 2005, which says in para 2, "Total 1,93,35 persons are likely to be affected by this project, out of that 1,75,275 persons in Andhra Pradesh and 6,316 persons from Orissa and 11,766 are from Chattisgarh." It is clear the condition of no submergence and displacement on Orissa and Chhattisgarh, stated in your letter, in the Tribal Development Ministry's condition, and in the forest clearance letter is in complete contradiction with the environment clearance given by you. One of them have to be cancelled due to this contradiction, we would like to know, which one would be cancelled.
  2. This condition of no submergence or displacement in Orissa or Chhattisgarh is based on the proposal to construct embankments along the respective rivers in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. However, the proposal to construct these embankments was not part of the project that was given clearance by your ministry on Oct 25, 2005. This change in scope of the project came to light when the project went for CWC clearance (given on 23.01.2009 following flawed in principle forest clearance given by your ministry on Dec 26, 2008). Following letter from MEF, the Govt of AP applied for concurrence of the MEF for building embankments on 29.01.2009. The issue came up for discussion in the meeting of EAC of River Valley committee on Feb 16-17, 2009. Prior to this EAC meeting, we had sent a detailed letter on 13.02.2009 to the EAC, explaining the implications of the proposal, lack of EIA or public consultation process, how this changes the scope of the project and so on, the same is attached. It is clear from details of this letter that hundred of ha of land would be required in Orissa and Chhattisgarh for the building of embankments, for mining of materials for building of embankments, for leaving land on the banks of the river on both sides, for building approach road, for building cross drainage channels and so on. A very large portion of this land would be forest land and it would also imply displacement of the people and their livelihoods. This itself is sufficient ground to show that MOTA condition, Orissa HC condition, your condition and FC condition of no submergence and displacement in Orissa and Chhattisgarh is impossible to adhere to, and this should again be sufficient ground to cancel both the priliminary and final FC given by your minister.
  3. After the EAC meeting of Feb 16-17 2009, the EAC decided on this issue, "The EAC therefore directed the project proponent to initiate suitable action requesting the appropriate authorities in Orissa & Chattisgarh for conducting public hearings in the respective states of Chattisgarh & Orissa  in respect of embankment proposal and report back to the committee." I am attaching the minutes of this EAC meeting for ready reference. This decision of the EAC implies that the project needs fresh clearance for this component and since project without this component would violate the various legal norms and conditions the project also cannot go ahead without that. However, the project is yet to take these steps and if it were to take this steps it would violate your conditions of no submergence and displacement in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. It is clear that your condition of no submergence and displacement in Orissa and Chhattisgarh is impossible to adhere to and hence the FC of the project has to be cancelled.
  4. Here we would like to add that the EAC decision in Feb 16-17 2009 meeting was flawed since it is clear that this was changing the scope of the project cleared earlier. So EAC should also have asked that the earlier EC be cancelled till this decision is followed.
  5. The Forest clearance given by your ministry, incidentally, has a condition, namely no (x), which says, "The project authority shall maintain flow of water in the down-stream course of river equal to the normal flow of water existing in pre-dam condition". I am at a loss to understand if this condition is to be adhered to (and I assume it needs to be adhered to all round the year, in all years, since there are no qualifications in the condition), how can the dam be built or operated at all? It seems there has not been sufficient application of mind while according  the final FC dated 28.7.2010, which is sufficient reason for its cancellation.

These objections to the final FC and narration of the contradictions in your letter actually gives an opportunity to revisit the project  and look for better options in achieving the irrigation and water supply in project areas. Hope you will take necessary steps in that direction after cancelling the flawed Environment clearance of Oct 25, 2005 (which was also quashed by NEAA in Dec 2007) and the forest clearances of Dec 26, 2008 and July 28, 2010.

I would be happy to explain these issues if necessary and will look forward to your early response.

Thanking you,
Himanshu Thakkar

Please find the below attachments

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