At a time when the Environment and Forests Ministry is facing the Vedanta challenge, a tougher test lies in store for Jairam Ramesh in the state he represents in Rajya Sabha — Andhra Pradesh.
The Vedanta decision will bring to fore India’s next environmental flashpoint and its biggest dam project since the Sardar Sarovar Narmada — the Indira Sagar Polavaram project on the river Godavari.
The flagship project of late chief minister Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy is what Orissa wants scrapped if Vedanta does not get the go-ahead.
Like Vedanta that will affect the Dongriya Kondhs of Lanjigarh district, the multipurpose mega Indira Sagar Project would lead to uprooting of primitive tribals — the Konda Reddis and the Koyas.
More than 300 villages will be submerged (277 within AP) and 1.7 to two lakh people will be displaced. In all, the reservoir would swallow 3,731 hectares of lush forestland.
Activists say the approach of the officials to the Project Affected People has rendered the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006 useless.
“While there was never a public hearing of gram sabhas in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, it was nothing but a farce in the few places it was held in Andhra Pradesh, where people were not informed or heard and consent taken under shadow of police,” Ravi R. of Samata, an NGO based in Visahkapatnam, said.
With YSR pushing the project, there was no stopping it, observers say. “One tribal family will be displaced for every five acres of affluent land that is planned to be irrigated under the project. Alternate designs meant to reduce displacement were not considered, approvals were obtained in a hurry reflecting the impatience of the State government,” E.A.S. Sharma, former union finance secretary, told HT on phone from Vizag.
While Praja Rajyam Party chief Chiranjeevi went on a yatra demanding national project status for Polavaram, the principal opposition TDP is all in support of the project. TRS is opposing the project, as it will “benefit the Coastal and Rayalaseema regions”.
Activists say the real anger is waiting to pour out “once the water starts raising”. “There was some lack of co-ordination which made the protest look weak. But resentment against the project is very much there … ,” G. Srinivas of Samata says.