Calling Jagan a ‘curse’, Andhra Pradesh CM Naidu releases white paper on stalled Polavaram project

Calling Jagan a ‘curse’, Andhra Pradesh CM Naidu releases white paper on stalled Polavaram project

“Polavaram is one example to show that Andhra Pradesh has suffered more due to Jagan’s five-year rule from 2019 to 2024 than because of the 2014 bifurcation,” Naidu said, releasing the white paper Friday at Amaravati.

According to the document, which was aimed at making the project status public, about 72 percent of the civil works were completed by May 2019, the end of Naidu’s previous five-year term as chief minister of bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.

“From May 2019 to May 2024, the progress is only 3.84 percent. Practically, no work was carried out during this period on both Right Main and Left Main Canals. The works pertaining to the distributary network under main canals are not yet commenced and even DPR is not finalised. Under Land Acquisition (LA) and Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R&R) also, the progress is meagre 3.89 percent in this period,” the white paper read.

CM and TDP chief Naidu presenting the white paper on the status of Polavaram project | By special arrangement
CM and TDP chief Naidu presenting the white paper on the status of Polavaram project | By special arrangement

While Rs 16,493 crore were spent on the project till May 2019, “there was a drastic decrease in budgetary support to Polavaram by the AP government during 2019-24”, the TDP government said. The spending in the last five years was Rs 4,167.53 crore.

According to the white paper, there has also been no tangible action regarding the resolution of disputes with Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, and other issues like getting the approval for the second Revised Cost Estimate (at 2017-18 Price Level).

The white paper underlined how three factors — lack of timely action with regards to closure of gaps in the upstream cofferdam, failure to facilitate resettlement and rehabilitation for villages likely to be affected, as also to complete works in the foreshore before impoundment of water above upstream cofferdam — resulted in very poor progress in work pertaining to approach channel to spillway and to both Right and Left head regulators etc.

The white paper said this also resulted in severe damage to the diaphragm wall of the main dam, cut-off wall of downstream coffer dam and the partially completed downstream cofferdam. In addition, the lapses also resulted in deep scours in the foundation area in the entire base width of the main dam.

Measures to be taken to overcome these bottlenecks have also not been finalised. “As a result, it is now not possible to commence any work pertaining to the main dams,” Naidu said, presenting the white paper.

Also Read: Jagan’s Rs 450-cr ‘palace’: Touted as resort, then CM’s residence, Rushikonda project in eye of storm

Reverse tendering and new contractors

The abrupt change in contractorship at a critical stage, duly ignoring the advice of the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) and the Union government, the delay in mobilisation of required men and machinery by the new agency, and not realising the importance of closing the two gaps in the upstream cofferdam resulted in severe damage to the diaphragm wall, the white paper said.

Soon after coming to power, the Jagan Reddy-led government had, in June 2019, stopped all construction activity at Polavaram. Notices were served to main dam contractors Navayuga Engineering Company Limited (NECL) and Bekem Infra Projects Private Limited (BEKEM) for pre-closure, and their contracts were terminated based on recommendations of an expert committee constituted by the then Andhra government.

Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint

Chief Minister Naidu emphasised that Jagan changed the firms despite the CEO of PPA and the Ministry of Jal Shakti advising special chief secretary of the Andhra Pradesh water resources department “to abandon the idea of pre-closure and retendering of the work in the best interests of the project or at the least keep the same in abeyance till a considered view is taken by central government in the matter”.

“There is neither enough ground nor any necessity for pre-closure of the present contracts and retendering the works. Such a step will result in unforeseen consequences and will plunge the project into uncertainty. The project is not only likely to get delayed, it will have adverse socio-economic impact as well due to delay in realisation of benefits from the project apart from likely increase in the cost of the project,” the PPA CEO had written.

In August, 2019, the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) government invited bids for the balance works of Polavaram main dam, along with hydro-power station, under reverse tendering. In November that year, Megha Engineering & Infrastructures Ltd (MEIL) was assigned the project for Rs 1,548 crore — 12.6 percent lower than previous contract rates. Jagan had claimed a saving of Rs 628.47 crore due to this decision. 

MEIL, a Hyderabad-based firm, was also involved in Telangana’s much controversial Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project on the same river.

However, the TDP paper said that two new contracts (for scour treatment and other tasks) worth Rs 2,268.68 crore were later entrusted to the same agency, “based on latest/current Schedule of Rates, at one to two percent less, instead of taking up these works as supplemental/additional items under the original contract”.

This, according to the white paper, proved that Jagan’s claim of saving Rs 628 crore terminating earlier contracts and entrusting the same to a new agency by reverse tendering was not true. “In fact, it resulted in extra financial burden on the state exchequer on account of entrustment of additional items under two fresh contracts to the same agency at higher tender percentage than the original contract,” it read.

Also Read: As Amaravati stirs with Naidu’s return, villagers celebrate & infra firms calculate

‘Lack of timely action’

The YSRCP government, between May 2019 and November 2021, failed to take necessary action to plug the two gaps left in the upstream cofferdam, the TDP government claimed.

“Had appropriate timely action been taken to plug the two gaps, the calamity of deep scouring of the riverbed both on the upstream and downstream of D-wall and damage of D-wall, partially completed downstream cofferdam, including its cutoff wall, would not have occurred and the project would have been completed by this time,” the white paper read.

Due to this lapse, the original topography/terrain of the river bed in the entire base width of the main Earth Cum Rock Fill (ECRF) dams in Gap-I and Gap-II was disturbed with deep scours. Filling the scours with sand resulted in different foundation soils underneath the base width of the main ECRF dams (Gap–I and Gap–II) requiring extensive stabilisation/remedial measures causing both time and cost overrun, according to it.

An IIT-Hyderabad report from November 2021 said major reasons for delays in completion of the project were inadequate construction and contract management, contractor changes, lack of strategic planning and coordination, frequent design changes/deviations, legal issues and non-compliance of directions/recommendations of the established monitoring mechanisms by the executing agency. 

“The drastic decline in the growth of the expenditure in 2019-20 is attributed to the delay in the progress of the work associated with the change in the executing agency and re-tendering process. Similarly, the decline in the subsequent years is due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the report.

Naidu said Friday that during his previous tenure as chief minister (2014-2019), an expenditure of Rs 11,762 crore was incurred on Polavaram, of which only Rs 6,764 crore were reimbursed by the Government of India at the time.

The under-construction Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project | By special arrangement
The under-construction Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project | By special arrangement

The pending Rs 4,998 crore were released subsequently after Jagan took over. During the YSRCP regime (2019-2024), the state incurred an expenditure of only Rs 4,996 crore, even though GoI had reimbursed Rs 8,382 crore to the state government, he claimed.

“Thus, Rs 3,385.58 crore were diverted (for other purposes), instead of spending the same on Polavaram, thereby starving the project of funds. This has affected the progress of works, LA (land acquisition) and R&R (resettlement & rehabilitation) very badly, as payment of bills for an amount of Rs 2,697 crore is pending, as on 31 May 2024. All the executing agencies of the project have practically stopped the work due to non-payment of their pending bills,” the white paper said.

From July 2020 to June 2024, work on the diaphragm wall and Earth Cum Rock Fill (ECRF) dam was at a complete standstill, according to the document.

The two gaps in the upstream cofferdam were plugged in non-flood season from November 2020 to June 2021. In spite of this, a working area could not be provided to rectify the diaphragm wall or start any activity on the ECRF dam as the downstream cofferdam was not in place, it claimed.

The downstream cofferdam was completed in February 2023. Thereafter, in the flood season from June 2023 to November 2023, it was observed that there was excess seepage from both upstream cofferdam & downstream cofferdam.

Hence, working areas could not be provided for taking up the D-Wall rectification and work at the ECRF dam. So far, the excess seepage was not arrested.

Due to high velocity flow in the 2020 flood season, the existing river bed in the upstream portion of ECRF dam (Gap I) alignment was washed away. This led to the base of ECRF dam (Gap I) resting on two different substrata (the original river bed strata and other filled up strata). Hence, additional treatment measures are required to fix the issue. The task has not yet been taken up as the design and treatment measures are not finalised.

Impact of project delay

Had the executing agency not been changed and had the project planning been proper, Polavaram would have been completed in time to release water in Kharif 2020, the white paper claimed.

“Due to inefficient planning and unnecessary change of contractors, the project was rescheduled to be completed by June 2021. Later, the completion schedule was extended to June 2022, and then again to June 2023, putting the project under deep uncertainty,” Naidu said, speaking about the YSRCP government’s “unmet” commitments.

The white paper further said that the first three units of the Polavaram Hydro Electric Project were scheduled to be completed by November 2021. The other six units were to be commissioned within six months thereafter.

Non-commissioning of these units resulted in non-availability of cheap power to the state, and resulted in a loss of over Rs 3,000 crore up to May 2024. “This loss will continue increasing as the project completion is getting further delayed,” the white paper added.

Rs 12,157 crore is the likely cost of completion of the balance work of Polavaram Phase I.

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)

Also Read: Chandrababu Naidu is important in both Centre and state. He is his own double-engine now


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