Polavaram Irrigation Project – River Water politics and Lessons

Polavaram Irrigation Project in Andhra Pradesh will be the biggest dam dedicated to the nation after Sadar Sarovar dam on Narmada River in Gujarat. The Storage capacity of Polavaram Reservoir is 1/2 of Nagarjuna Sagar, 3/4 of Bhakra Dam and 1.5 Times of Tehri Dam.

The first project report of Polavaram Project was prepared in 1986 for an estimated cost of Rs. 2,665 crores (with 1985-86 rates). The project cost was revised to Rs. 10,151.04 crores and approved by the planning commission in 2009 (at 2005-06 price level). The project cost had a further cost escalation to Rs.16,010.45 crores (including drinking water component of Rs.2,868 crores) which was accepted by the advisory committee of the ministry of water resources on 4.1.2011. However, the current central government has agreed to assist only the irrigation component of the Polavaram Project cost which comes to Rs. 13,142 crores.

Site clearance was obtained from the Centre on 19 September 2005 and environmental clearance on 25 October 2005. The environment clearance of the project was cancelled by the National Environment Appellate Authority in 2007 but the Andhra Pradesh High Court had stayed it as an interim measure.

R & R (Rehabilitation & Resettlement) clearance was given on 17 April 2007, wildlife sanctuary clearance on 19 Sept 2008, forest clearance on 26 Dec 26 2008 and technical advisory committee clearance on 20 January 2009 for this project. The Ministry of Environment and Forest had given a direction to stop the construction work of the project on February 8, 2011, but had later kept its own order in abeyance.

Prior to the passage of the AP Reorganisation Act, the Polavaram Project was being implemented by the Government of Andhra Pradesh with Central Assistance under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP).  An expenditure of Rs 5,135.87 crore had been incurred up to 31.3.2014 including a Central Assistance of Rs 562.469 crore. The present central government has agreed to fund 100% of the remaining cost of the irrigation component of the Polavaram Project staring from 1.4.2014 (in the form of NABARD loan in turn to be repaid by the central government) which works out to Rs.  8,006.13 crore (Rs. 13,142 crore – Rs. 5,135.87 crore).

Polavaram Project was made a “national project” by AP Reorganisation Act 2014. Consequent to the bifurcation of the undivided AP into Telangana and AP in 2014, the Central Government had reviewed the earlier clearances viz., site clearance, environmental clearances, and relief and rehabilitation clearances among others paving the way for smooth execution of this project.  Since 2014, the centre has given Rs.2,190 crores (that includes Rs.1,890 crores NABARD loan, the repayment of which will be borne by the centre).

Work Status and Cost Escalation

90% of the right main canal works and 61% of the left main canal works are completed. However, only 7% of the dam work is completed.

Nearly 2 lakh people (51,047 families) in 216 villages in AP are expected to be displaced submerging nearly 1.6 lakh acres of lands. AP government has managed to resolve this issue out of court and paid to the farmers Rs. 700 crores as compensation.  Meanwhile in August, 2017 the state government has submitted the revised cost estimate of Rs.58,319.06  crores ( at 2013-14 price level)  for the Polavaram Project to the centre which has a major share of Rs.38,000 crores towards rehabilitation and resettlement. 60,258 acres of land is yet to be acquired and the compensation for land acquisition has increased consequent to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 passed by the centre.

Benefits of Polavaram Project

  • Enables irrigation of 23.20 lakh acres across the state covering major portion of 13 districts.
  • Diverts and utilizes the surplus waters of Godavari River into Krishna and other rivers to make the state drought free forever, meeting the demands for irrigation, drinking water and industrial purposes. Every year 2,500 TMC waters of Godavari River go waste into the sea and the Polavaram Project is expected to divert 2.27 TM cum (80 TM cft) of Godavari waters into Krishna River.
  • Generation of 960 MW of hydel power.
  • Has the potential to transfer the surplus waters of Godavari River to Cauvery through Krishna and Penna Rivers.
  • Increase in agricultural production to the tune of 109 lakhs M.T.per annum.
  • Inland water transport for the mineral and forest products and other agricultural and industrial products.
  • Recreation facilities and pisciculture.


As this project submerges the lands located in the states of Odisha and Chattisgarh these two States had earlier filed cases in Supreme Court. To resolve this issue AP government has offered to build 30.2 KM and 29.12 KM long protective walls in Orissa and Chattisgarh along the Sabari River and Sileru River respectively that are tributaries of Godavari River. On 7th November, 2017 the supreme court had slapped a cost of Rs.25,000 on the central government for not filing its response on the case filed by Odisha on the Polavaram Project. Telangana and Chattisgarh are impleaded as parties in this case on the plea of Odisha by the Supreme Court. This case is also tagged with a writ petition filed by an NGO alleging that statutory provisions of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, Environment (Protection) Act 1986, The Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 were violated by the Polavaram project authority.

Role and Responsibility of Central Government

As the Polavaram Irrigation Project is included under the tag of national project, the central government has a statutory obligation to resolve the above issues since all project clearances are under its domain. Also, the centre has to expeditiously resolve the issue of the project cost escalation since the major cost escalation is due to land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement caused by its own Land Acquisition Act, 2013. The AP State government is not in a position to absorb this additional cost in view of its weak financial position post bifurcation of the state which has a legacy of both revenue and capital deficits and struggling to build its own state capital from the scratch.

Smart move by AP State Government

Anticipating delay in completion of the Polavaram Project, the state government has made a smart move to go ahead with Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Project which was completed in a record time of one year diverting the surplus waters from Godavari (right main canal) to Krishna River. This was the first irrigation project in the country to be completed without any budget enhancements and entered into Limca book of records for completion of the project in record time. The project has one of the largest pump houses in Asia with 24 pumping units spread across an area of 7,476 sq m. This project costing Rs.1,300 crores has become a boon to the farmers in four districts in Krishna delta covering nearly 13 lakh acres.

Enthused by the success of Pattiseema Project, AP state government launched Purushottapatnam Lift Irrigation Scheme costing Rs.1,638 crores through the left main canal of Godavari River which was completed in a record time of 225 days and commenced in August, 2017.  2.15 lakh acres of agricultural lands in East Godavari district are expected to get irrigation facility through this project.

The above smart moves by the AP state followed by other proactive measures have shown significant results. AP achieved a growth rate of 11.37 per cent in the first half of the current financial year 2017-18 as against 5.8 per cent in the country. The State also achieved 25.6 per cent growth in agriculture and allied sectors against 2 per cent at all Bharat level.

The Polavaram Project originally scheduled to be completed in June, 2018 was subsequently extended to April 2019. However, the completion of the project by April, 2019 now appears to be unlikely since the contractor is unable to meet the time lines citing cost escalation (the contract was awarded in March, 2013). The state government has sought the intervention of the centre to resolve this issue since this is a centrally funded national irrigation project.

Political Dimension

There is a political dimension to this whole episode. Though this is a centrally funded irrigation project, the implementation is under the state government. The dynamic Chief Minister of AP Mr. Chandra Babu Naidu has been monitoring personally the progress of Polavaram Project. He has carried out 19 inspections physically and 40 inspections virtually (up to 18th September, 2017). Every Monday he monitors and reviews the progress of the this project.

As the central government and the AP state government are being run by two different political parties though they are allies, both are vying with each other to get their share of credit keeping in view the forthcoming 2019 general elections. This has led to the state government rushing the things to complete this project before the 2019 general elections while the central government has adopted a wait and watch strategy.

One has to wait and see whether both the governments will come on the same platform to complete this project before 2019 general elections. One thing is certain that this project will be an important milestone to turn the fortunes of Andhra Pradesh to catapult its agricultural economy to the next level. 25.6 per cent growth in AP’s agriculture and allied sectors against 2 per cent at all Bharat level in the first half of current fiscal is an indication of the emerging trend.  There is also an important lesson to the policy makers from mega irrigation dams like Sardar Sarovar Dam and Polavaram Irrigation Project that check dams and canals are highly cost-effective and much faster in execution compared to large reservoirs.


  1. http://www.wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=380
  2. http://irrigationap.cgg.gov.in/wrd/projects
  3. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/andhra-pradesh/2017/nov/07/polavaram-case-supreme-court-slaps-rs-25000-cost-on-centre-1694683.html
  4. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/can-andhra-pradesh-cm-chandrababu-naidu-deliver-four-decade-old-polavaram-project-within-next-2-years/articleshow/56707243.cms
  5. https://smtv24x7.com/english-news-32522-ap-govt-submitted-estimated-cost-for-polavaram-project.html

Featured Image source: http://www.livemint.com/Politics/5rFMAikE23h2pdlM0z35eP/Polavaram-project-needs-Rs39000-crore-more-Chandrababu-Nai.html

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About the Author

B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex Senior Banker, Management and Financial Consultant, Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. E mail- [email protected]