Though Polavaram is a prestigious project for Andhra Pradesh, erstwhile Chandrababu Naidu government did nothing either to speed up the execution of the project works or for obtaining required clearances for it. It failed in completing the project within the stipulated deadlines, even though the central government has given national project status to it and extended enough financial support. Project construction companies also failed in executing the works as expected, for different reasons. Amidst all this, the latest decision of present government headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to cancel the prevailing project contracts and going for reverse tendering has turned into a bone of contention. There is some criticism that this decision would put further strain on already ailing construction and infrastructure sectors, which are showing negative signs of growth. But given the present situation, it seems the reverse tendering is the only better alternative to complete the project in the next 2 years.
Tardy progress in Chandrababu regime
Understanding the pace of Polavaram Project works, there is also a feeling that the government has done the right thing by going for reverse tendering. There were so many contentious issues from the beginning of this project, but even after getting the required clearances the pace of the works has not gained any momentum. Chandrababu government has failed in all respects to improve the project progress. Then Irrigation Minister has announced that they would complete the project by December 2018 and provide water for both irrigation and drinking through left and right canals, with the help of gravity, but it seems that it would not be completed even by December 2019. If one assumes that the project would be implemented on a fast track mode, even then it would take at least two more years for completion.
Thinking that the present executing companies do not have required technical capabilities to increase the pace of the project, the government has decided to cancel the present project contracts and issued a notification for reverse tendering so as to assign the works to a better company for a better price. If everything goes on well and new contract company is finalised by the end of September and there is a possibility of resuming the project works by the end of November. By that time water flows in the Godavari would also recede.
Enough funds but a slow pace
The vital components of Polavaram the project consists of constructing a reservoir and a hydroelectric power station. Technically it is called Earth cum Rock-Fill Dam (ECRF). When tenders called for this project in 2009, nobody came forward citing the reason that the pricing is not appropriate and feasible. In 2012, as the then government called for fresh tenders, TransTrai and some other companies took up the works as part of a joint venture by quoting less price. Within no time this venture went into bankruptcy, forcing the government to assign works to another company; in the process, it omitted some project works from the ambit of this company. Subsequently, another two companies were assigned some more works. Thus, these three companies are executing the works when the contracts are cancelled.
For the last five years, effectively is no progress in the major works of the project. The Central Government has given national status to this project in 2014 and ever since extending complete financial support. While there is a total expenditure of Rs 16673 crores so for the project, almost Rs 11537 cores have been spent after it attained the national status. Rs 5135 crores were spent when Dr YS Rajashekar Reddy was at the helm. A sum of Rs 6727 crores was already released from Central Government through PPA; Rs 4810 crores are yet to be released. In that way, though there is enough support from the Central Government, Chandrababu government could not complete the works at an expected level.
Many critical works still in pending
There are a number of works yet to be finished. Nearly 4 crores cubic meters of earthwork and 20 lakh cubic meters of concrete work is still to be completed. Among the total required structures, 381 are completed and 140 are in the construction stage. Works for 208 structures are yet to be initiated. Progress is very slow with regard to 4 package works and construction of the hydroelectric station. Except for the works related to the Diaphragm wall and Jet Grouting, all other earthworks are in different stages of execution. Works related to Spillway, Spill channel, Approach channel, Pallet channel, left canal are progressing at a very slow pace. Critical concrete works of Spillway, Spilling Basina and Still, channel is also yet to be completed.
Expert Committee uncovered the excess payouts
After taking over power, Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy immediately ordered an enquiry over the project works and constituted an expert committee to examine the issue of excess payouts for works. The committee disclosed that there are irregularities in payments to the contractors to the tune of Rs 2364.8 crores and detailed out how the erstwhile government has shown favouritism towards these contractors. Irrespective of such additional payments, progress remained standstill.
Headworks were divided into four packages and assigned to two companies. Three main headworks are to be completed by this August and another work by July next year. But the ground reality looks very grim, as it will take at least two moreyears to complete these works on a war footing. No work is initiated yet related to the construction of hydroelectric power station.
Advances for uninitiated works
For constructing a hydroelectric power station with a capacity of 960 MW, the government invited tenders on 9th January 2017. It took almost a year to finalize the tenders and making agreements with the companies. Agreements were signed on 20th December 2017 along with payment of Rs 322 crores as advances to the selected companies. But even now works are in a nascent stage. Considering this slow progress, government has cancelled the construction works related to Spill way the channel, Rockfill dam, Coffer Dam, arrangements of gates of the project, along with works related to the hydroelectric power station.
In fact, the company that got the contract for construction of hydroelectric power station itself implementing the works related to the main reservoir, along with APGENCO and Irrigation Department. Even then, there is visible neglect in the coordination of works that led to slow progress of the project implementation. The expert committee itself surprised by seeing the payment of Rs 787.20 crores as an advance to the company by APGENCO, even without allocating the required place for construction works. Considering these gaps expert committee has recommended the government to go for reverse-tendering by bringing all the works under a single package and assign the contract to a single company, so as to complete the project within the next two years.
All clearances got by YSR government: Babu has done nothing Polavaram project was conceptualized in 1941 but due to various controversies nothing moved on the ground for so long. Foundation stone was led during the time when Anjaiah was Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Though Chandrababu was in power for almost 10 years during 1995-2014, it was grossly neglected on the pretext of lack of funds and insufficiency of river water etc. When YS Rajashekar Reddy came to power in 2014, he launched JalaYajnam in a big way and created a sort of record by taking up all pending irrigation projects at once. Thus the works for Polavaram project were inaugurated in 2005 in the form of packages divided into main headworks and works related to left and right canals. During that time the only project has got all the necessary clearances.
While it required 13 clearances in total, it received 10 clearances in between 2005-2009 when YSR was at the helm. These include clearances from the Environment Department, Forest Department, Site Clearance, Clearance from Department of Wild Life Sanctuaries, R&R clearance from Tribal department, relocating Papikondalu wild forest area, TAC from Central Water Commission, Finance and Capital related clearances from Planning Commission and final clearances from Forest and Environment Department etc. During the Chandrababu rule, it got only two clearances in 2017 and 2019 in the form to TAC-Race 2 and revised estimates. It is clear from this data that Chandrababu has done nothing to get clearances for this project and practically every clearance was taken by the YSR government.
In December 2014 itself, YSR has set up a separate unit in the Chief Engineer’s office to oversee the project works, along with required ancillary engineering establishments. A Special Commissioner was appointed to take care of issues related to resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) of the project affected people of submerging villages. YSR government also submitted a comprehensive report to the central government in May 2009 seeking national status and required funds for this prestigious project.