The Environment Ministry has sought an explanation from the Andhra Pradesh government for beginning work on the controversial Polavaram irrigation project without holding public hearings in the nearby states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
In a communication to the state government, the ministry has asked it to reply within next ten days why a public hearing on the project, which was given green nod in 2005, has not been held despite repeated reminders in the last one-and-a-half-year.
In a letter written on Monday to the Andhra Pradesh Government, the ministry has asked the state government to give details of the construction status of the dam and also explain why a formal show-cause should not be issued (for not following norms).
"Why a showcause notice should not be issued formally under section 5 of the Environment Protection Act as work on the project is continuing without getting the environment clearance amended for additional components like construction of embankments, drainage sluices and pumping arrangements," it said.
After it received the environment clearance, the Polavaram irrigation project was referred to the ministry by the Central Water Commission (CWC) in January, 2009, before it was taken up for consideration by the technical committee of the commission.
At that time, the proposal included construction of bunds and embankments on River Saberi and River Sileru to avoid submergence in Orissa and Chhattisgarh which have been opposing the project as it threatens to submerge tribal villages there.
Since, the embankments were not part of the initial proposal, the expert appraisal committee of the environment ministry took up the amended proposal for consideration in its meeting in February, 2009 and recommended the Andhra Pradesh irrigation department to undertake a public hearing in Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
This was conveyed to the Andhra government in March 2009. However, the state government is yet to hold a public hearing in either state despite repeated reminders.
The project was granted forest clearance on July 28 with a condition that no land will be submerged in Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
In fact, following forest clearance, environment minister Jairam Ramesh had assured Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that the technical guidance provided by the Central Water Commission will ensure that no submergence or displacement takes place.