By Amit Kumar*
A Fact-Finding Committee (FFC) that visited the Polavaram Multipurpose Project affected villages in Andhra Pradesh last month released its brief report, with observations and recommendations, confirming the numerous complaints of legal and procedural violations, corruption and irregularities in the land acquisition and rehabilitation process. The Committee noted with grave concern that the scale of displacement, particularly of adivasis and dalits in the constitutionally protected Schedule-V area is unprecedented and the Central Govt., along with Govt. of AP must assume full responsibility to safeguard the rights and interests of all the affected people, before racing ahead with engineering works of the Project.
Jointly organized by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Adivasi Sankshema Parishad (ASP), Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttridarula Union (APVVU), Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) and Human Rights Forum (HRF) on 17th and 18th April, the FFC visited villages Errapadu and Reddygudem in Upperu Panchayat, Vinjaram, Koida, Parentaalpalli, Singanapalli R&R Colony Pamulavarigudem and other villages and interacted extensively with the affected people as well as Mr. Harinder Prasad, IAS, Project Officer, ITDA, KR Puram and Venkateshwara Rao, Special Deputy Collector (Tribal Welfare), one of the members of the Committee constituted by the AP High Court, to inquire into complaints of corruption.
The fact finding team included Prafulla Samantara (Advisor, NAPM and Recipient of Goldman Environment Price, 2017), Sharanya Nayak (social activist from Koraput, Odisha), Babji Juvvala (Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union), Kaki Madhu (Adivasi Sankshema Parishad, AP), Adv I. Suryanarayana (Dalit Bahujana Vyavasaya Shramika Union, AP), Venkata Narsayya (Human Rights Forum, Khammam), Balu Gadi (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), Meera Sanghamitra (Human Rights activist, NAPM), independent journalists Malini Subramanam and Rahul Maganti, Gaurav Meka & Rajesh Serupally (social activists).
A delegation of adivasis and activists from the affected areas had a detailed interaction with the Chairperson and Members of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and also with the Vice Chairman of the (NCSC) on 17th May at their office and also met the Secretary of the Union Water Resources Ministry, under whose charge the Polavaram Project is being monitored as a 100% centrally funded project since 2014. The ST Commission noted the gravity of the entire situation and assured the delegation of a more detailed visit shortly to the affected areas, along with an in-depth inquiry and action into the wide ranging issues that were raised in the memorandum submitted to them.
Certain Members of the Fact Finding Committee were in Delhi to address the national media on the range of violations taking place in the Polavaram Project and in particular highlighted issues of massive scam of a few hundred crores unfolding in the project works, land acquisition without settlement of forest rights of thousands of adivasis as per the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act, 2013, problems in the allotment of land for the displaced dalits and adivasis, lack of grievance redressal systems, poor rehabilitation facilities and weak monitoring.
Speaking at the Conference Prafulla Samantara demanded a full-fledged judicial inquiry into the entire issue, especially the emerging corruption scandal, considering the fact that the right to life and livelihood of the most marginalized adivasis and dalits is at stake and a nexus of large number of middlemen and officials are allegedly swindling huge chunk of the rehabilitation money and the state exchequer. Soma KP (independent researcher) raised issues of the continuing historical injustice to thousands of adivasis and forest-dependent people in Polavaram, even after more than a decade of the Forest Rights Act and a permanent erasure of the identity, livelihood base and sustenance systems of these communities from their habitats, which is nothing short of a mass atrocity planned and executed by the State.
R Shridhar (Environics Trust) spoke of Poalvaram as a classic case wherein without an unambiguous clearance from the MoEF as per the EIA Notification, 2006 and public hearings in all affected areas, the project works are going ahead with least regard to the enormous scale of social and environmental impacts that are likely to be caused and disregarding the alternative proposals that has been put forth to minimize displacement, which is infact one of the prime objectives of the LARR Act, 2013. As the supreme constitutional custodian of the rights of adivasis in Schedule – V areas and Polavaram being a National Project, the President is directly responsible for the well-being of the one lakh adivasis in the region, said Vimal bhai (Matu Jan Sangathan). He exhorted the Centre to play a very pro-active role in monitoring the overall project and not merely the engineering works.
Bapji Juvvala stated that even as locally they have been unearthing and providing evidence of numerous instances of corruption, in which many middlemen, officials and even political party leaders, especially of the ruling party TDP are involved, the state government is completely nonchalant and therefore they had no option but take the matter to the High Court through a PIL, which is hearing the matter. Krishnanaveni from Darbagudem Panchayat highlighted the very important issue of the State trying to create conflict amongst adivasis by claiming to ‘rehabilitate’ some project affected adivasis on the lands of other adivasis in the Schedule area which the latter have been cultivating for decades and demanded a complete stop to such practices.
Meera Sanghamitra said that as per the records of AP itself 372 villages are slated to be submergence affected and a total of 1,06,798.63 acres of land in East Godavari and 51,858 acres of land in West Godavari is being acquired for the Project. The Centre, along with the recently constituted Inter-Ministerial R&R Monitoring Committee of Govt. of India is legally mandated to ensure that the Land Acquisition & Rehabilitation Act, PESA Act and Forest Rights Act are fully implemented before acquisition and submergence.
The delegation that met the authorities also demanded at least Rs. 25 lakh compensation for each of the 22 adivasis who died due to unfortunate boat-drowning a few days back in the Godavari river, while they were on their way to the local Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation office submit complaints. This is not merely a ‘tragedy;’ but a ghastly incident that could have been avoided and must be inquired into judicially, they said.
*National Organizer, NAPM
Click HERE for full report of the Fact-Finding Committee