The Centre has justified in the Supreme Court the grant of clearance for the Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh, and said protection against submergence would be ensured.

In its response to the suit filed by Orissa seeking suspension of work on the Polavaram Indira Sagar Project, the Central Water Commission (CWC), in its affidavit filed on Wednesday, said the final award of the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal in 1980 had settled all issues of submergence.

The Centre noted that the Environment and Forests Ministry had accepted the project proposal in January 2009, asking Andhra Pradesh to ensure that there was no submergence of any habitation or forest area in Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Andhra Pradesh would construct embankments with adequate drainage arrangements to prevent submergence from backwater effect as well as reservoir submergence and consequent displacement of people in the two neighbouring States.

Multipurpose scheme

The Centre said the Polavaram project was conceived as a multipurpose scheme providing irrigation to 4.36 lakh hectares, water supply to towns and villages en route, and generating hydel power with an installed capacity of 960 MW. The project envisaged construction of an earth-cum-rockfill dam. It fulfilled the criteria for being called a national project, and investment clearance was given by the Planning Commission in February 2009.

Allaying Orissa's fears of submergence due to floods, the Centre said the Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) estimated for the project was 1, 41,435 cumecs (about 50 lakh cusecs) was in order. The proposed spillway was capable was disposing of the PMF, and dam safety had been checked for this condition.

The Centre said Andhra Pradesh had been asked to furnish a confirmation report that there was no change in the number of project-affected Scheduled Tribe families from what was reported at the time of clearance of the Relief and Rehabilitation Plan, and that all protective steps had been taken to prevent submergence.

In its suit, Orissa had sought a declaration that Andhra Pradesh had no right or entitlement to undertake or proceed with the Polavaram project on the Godavari. It faulted the CWC for not furnishing any detail before approving the project. Embankments were not permanent solutions to effectively contain submergence during floods.

Also, the extent of submergence due to design flood (which had been revised to 50 lakh cusecs from the original 36 lakh cusecs by the CWC itself) and the backwater effect along the Sabari and Sileru limbs (flowing through Orissa territory into the Godavari in Andhra Pradesh) had been finalised by the CWC without estimating the flood contributions from these limbs separately by following any rational procedure or acceptable norm, Orissa said. It said the project was likely to submerge 2119.38 hectares of land in Naxalite-affected tribal areas of Malkangiri district.