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From Pranab Ranjan Choudhury and Priyabrata Satapathy, Baitarani initiative, Bhubaneswar, Odisha
Why the Central Government has closed its eyes towards every illegality done by the AP Government on Polavarm project and why the State Government of Odisha keeps double standard for different projects? These are some new unanswered questions in the Polavaram debate, the ghost of an interstate conflict, which revisits with new twists and turns every few months in the media. Baitarani Initiative tries to unpack this controversy by analyzing the legal and historical contexts.
The State Government of Odisha has now lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Environment and Forest to protest the forest clearance given for the Polavaram project. The State Government has raised the issue that there is a clear violation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Claim over settlement of forest rights, which was set as a pre-condition by the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoEF) for according forest clearance to the Indira Sagar Project, was not followed properly. The project requires approximately 3,700 hectares of forestland. In such an area, it is obvious that the majority of these communities are entitled to rights under the Forest Rights Act. A recent study  found out, as expected, that the authorities are illegally blocking their rights. Now, the Ministry has granted final forest clearance to the project, stating that the approval is based on the “assurance of the Government of Andhra Pradesh that there are no rights to be settled under the Forest Rights Act in the project area.” This is in contrary to the own circular of MoEF, which requires that the gram sabhas, not the State government have to certify the proper implementation of the Act and have to grant their consent to the diversion. No such certificate from the Gram Sabha has been provided. About 2,000 families, mostly tribals living in Maoist-hit Malkangiri district, will be affected if the irrigation project comes up. Neither any ‘Gram Sabha’ has been held in these villages, nor was Odisha’s opposition to the project was taken into consideration before giving the forest clearance to Polavaram irrigation project.
As per the environmental clearance order dated 25.10.2005 of the MoEF, 6316 persons from Odisha are likely to be affected by the project. Since no joint verification of the project affected area by officers of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha has taken place till date, the above figures seem to be completely incorrect and probably based on wild imagination.
As per the forest diversion proposal prepared by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the project will involve diversion of 102.16 ha. of forest land falling in Odisha whereas the project may actually involve submergence of more than 1000 ha. of forest land in Malkangiri District of Odisha involving a large chunk of dense and rich forest cover. The project-affected people in Odisha should be given an opportunity to participate in the public hearing held for the purpose of seeking environmental clearance. To enable such participation, the public hearing should have been conducted in Malkangiri District of Odisha through Odisha Pollution Control Board. However no such public hearing has taken place. The issue of environmental clearance by the MoEF in the absence of such public hearing in Odisha is a blatant violation of the EIA Notification. On 23-01-2006.
Academy for Mountain Environics, a Civil Society Organization based in New Delhi through its Trustee Dr. R. Sreedhar had filed an Appeal before the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA). On 13-12-2006 the Appellant filed an application for impledement of Odisha State Pollution Control Board and Chhatisgarh State Pollution Control Board as Respondent in the Appeal. The State of Odisha filed their response on this Appeal and prayed to the NEAA to pass appropriate orders to set aside the Environmental Clearance granted in favour of Indira Sagar (Polavaram) Project by MoEF, since it is contrary to law and constitutional provision relating to procedure established by law. The State of Chhattisgarh has also filed their objection against the environment clearance. On 19th December 2007 the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) has quashed the Environmental Clearance granted by MOEF to Polavaram Project. Again the State of Andhra Pradesh has challenged this order before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and now this matter is continuing in the Supreme Court.
The Odisha government had moved the Supreme Court opposing the clearance given to the project by the Union Environment Ministry. It urged the Supreme Court to ensure that no progress should be allowed in the construction of the project as many legal disputes relating to the dam project were pending before various courts and tribunals. After hearing the petition, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre, Andhra and Odisha state governments to submit complete details of the project within four weeks. Earlier, in a letter, Odisha Chief Minister urged Prime Minister that no work should be allowed at the project till the disposal of the matter. The Odisha Chief Minister had expressed apprehension that many tribal settlements in Malkangiri district were likely to be submerged by the Polavaram project. He also opposed the decision of the government of the neighboring State to increase the water retention capacity of the Polavaram project from 30 lakh cusecs to 50 lakh cusecs without consulting Odisha and Chhattisgarh government.
Now this objection from the Odisha State Government has come out at a time when the Ministry of Environment and Forest put a spanner on handing over the forest and non-forestland to POSCO, citing violation in the Forest Rights Act. While the intention behind this reaction can be questioned, it must be kept in mind that it is not the first time when Govt of Odisha has raised its voice against the Polavaram project. The State has been strongly objecting to this project since the very beginning by raising this issue before different forums. However it is not clear that why the concerns of Odisha was not taken into account and if the concern towards forest right of our State Government is genuine then why it is different for different projects.
 Study conducted by a team of tribal activists on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the State. The team, comprising Oliver Springate-Baginski of University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, M. Gopinadh Reddy and Anil Kumar from the Hyderabad-based Centre of Economics and Social Studies (CESS), and P. Trinadha Rao, an advocate from Rajahmundry, made the study in the project-affected habitations of the district. http://www.hindu.com/2010/08/09/stories/2010080960300