Polavaram project: NGT imposes ₹243 crore fine on Andhra Pradesh government
The National Green Tribunal on Thursday imposed a penalty of ₹243 crores on the Andhra Pradesh government for violating environmental norms while executing the construction of the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project and three of its associated schemes built on the Godavari river.
Acting on a batch of petitions filed since 2018, Justice Sudhir Agarwal of the principal bench of NGT in New Delhi, who reserved his judgment on August 9, pronounced his 426-page order on Thursday.
The tribunal imposed a penalty of ₹120 crores towards environmental compensation on Polavaram major irrigation project, ₹24.56 crores on Purushottapatnam lift irrigation scheme, ₹24.90 crores on Pattiseema lift irrigation scheme and ₹73.63 crores on Chintalapudi lift irrigation scheme – all on Godavari river in East and West Godavari districts.
The tribunal said the penalty was 1.5% of the total project cost of the three lift irrigation schemes. The project cost for the Purushottapatnam lift scheme is ₹1,637 crore, Pattiseema, ₹1,660 crores and that of Chintalapudi, ₹4,909 crores. The first two lift schemes were completed during the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government before 2019 and the Chintalapudi lift scheme is half complete. .
For the Polavaram major irrigation project, the environmental compensation was fixed at only 0.75% of the original project cost of ₹16,010 crores, as there was no violation regarding obtaining environmental clearance, but there were violations in other environmental aspects, the tribunal said.
The tribunal dealt with the damage caused to the environment by these projects, such as erosion of huge quantity of top soil, sand and rock all along the project canals and unscientific way of dumping the excavated material without taking any requisite precautions, apart from affecting the flora and fauna in submergence areas of the Polavaram major irrigation project.
The tribunal directed that the state government pay environmental compensation to the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board within three months. The amount is to be utilised for remediation and restoration of the environment under the guidance and supervision of a committee comprising experts from the Union ministry of environment and forests, central pollution control board and AP pollution control board.
“The committee should be constituted within a month from now, and the plan for restoration of the environment should be prepared within two months and executed within the next six months,” the tribunal said.
NGT ordered that the state government might go ahead with the remaining 50% work on the Chintalapudi lift irrigation scheme, but only after obtaining all statutory clearances, consent and a no-objection certificate within three months.
NGT also took serious note of the proposed Krishna-Godavari-Pennar river linking project by the state government for which a detailed project report was submitted to the Union government last year. The tribunal said the project should not be executed or commenced unless statutory clearances, consents and permissions are obtained under relevant environmental and other laws.
The tribunal found fault with the state government for commissioning the irrigation projects on the Godavari river and the river-linking project without following and observing mandatory laws relating to the environment. “These laws have been given a complete go-bye in one or the other manner. The government has adopted a stubborn and adamant attitude in going ahead with the projects,” the tribunal said in the judgment.
Since there is no profit motive involved except public benefit in the execution of the projects, the tribunal said, it has confined itself to imposing environmental compensation on the state government.
A senior official of the state irrigation department said on condition of anonymity that the government is contemplating challenging the NGT order in the Supreme Court. “However, a final decision will be taken by chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy,” he added.
Prominent environmentalist Prof K Purushottam Reddy hailed the verdict of the NGT on Polavaram and three lift schemes. “It clearly upholds the principle that the state has to follow the rule of law in taking up such huge projects. It should be an eye-opener for other states as well,” he said.