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Centre, State violated laws, alleges Sarma

Visakhapatnam: Former Union secretary and environmental activist EAS Sarma alleged that both Central and State governments violated a number of statutes and committed multiple financial improprieties in the execution of Polavaram project. In a letter to secretary, Finance Ministry Ashok Lavasa with copies marked to secretary Water Resources Sashi Shekhar, chairman Central Water Commission Ashwin Pandya and secretary, Ministry of Tribal Welfare Shyam S Agrawal, Sarma said the project would displace lakhs of adivasis located in the areas notified under the fifth schedule in AP, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. He said both the governments violated the provisions of PESA and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (referred to as Forest Rights Act). Adivasi Gram Sabhas have been bypassed in violation of both these laws and the adivasis deprived of their legitimate ownership rights conferred on them by the FRA to the lands cultivated by them. Consequently, they also stand deprived of the compensation due to them for the lands for which they were not granted ownership titles, he said. The procedures laid down under the Environment (Protection) Act also stand violated. The State government has not only gone ahead with the unapproved Polavaram project in its present shape but also deviated from the original scope of the Polavaram project by unilaterally constructing the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation (LI) project, without Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change approval and without Central Water Commisson approval, the former bureaucrat charged. While such serious illegalities had been committed, both the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Environment chose to remain passive spectators and, at times, even facilitated the State committing such statutory violations. He said according to the notification dated September 7, this year, the latest approved cost of Polavaram project is Rs 16,010 crores, whereas now it had gone upto Rs 40,000 crore. This is excluding Pattiseema which cost Rs 1300 crore.
Under Section 90 of the AP Reorganisation Act, since Polavaram project has since been notified as a “national” project, the entire cost of it, including the Pattiseema will have to be borne by the Central government. Even though the finance ministry’s notification indicated that the State government would “execute” the project, the Ministry of Finance cannot close its eyes to the financial improprieties committed by the State in the execution of the project which has enlarged the scope of the project in an unauthorised manner and enhanced the cost to a mind boggling level of more than Rs 42,000. A comprehensive investigation carried out by an independent agency like the CBI will bring to light both the improprieties, irregularities as well as illegalities involved, Sarma told the officials in his letter.

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