Andhra govt, Centre pushing for Polavaram project, setting aside Dalit, Adivasi rights in scheduled areas: NGO panel

An agricultural field proposed to be acquired
By Our Representative
A fact-finding committee, which visited the Polavaram Multipurpose Project-affected villages in Andhra Pradesh recently, has in its preliminary report said that land acquisition for the project is being carried out "without settlement of forest rights of thousands of adivasis as per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, and the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation (LARR) Act, 2013".
Also noting "problems in the allotment of land for the displaced Dalits and Adivasis, lack of grievance redressal systems, poor rehabilitation facilities and weak monitoring", the committee has said, it can confirm the "numerous complaints of legal and procedural violations, corruption and irregularities in the land acquisition and rehabilitation process."
The committee noted that it is gravely concerned over "the scale of displacement, particularly of Adivasis and Dalits in the constitutionally protected Schedule-V area", adding, "The Central government, along with the Andhra Pradesh government, must assume full responsibility to safeguard the rights and interests of all the affected people, before racing ahead with engineering works of the project."
Jointly organized by the National Alliance of People's Movements, Adivasi Sankshema Parishad, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttridarula Union, Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), and the Human Rights Forum, the committee visited villages Errapadu and Reddygudem in Upperu panchayat, as also Vinjaram, Koida, Parentaalpalli, and Singanapalli resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) colonies.
The committee consisted of Prafulla Samantara, recipient of the Goldman Environment Price, 2017; Sharanya Nayak, social activist from Koraput, Odisha; Babji Juvvala of the Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union; Kaki Madhu of the Adivasi Sankshema Parishad, Andhra Pradesh; Meera Sanghamitra, human rights activist; independent journalists Malini Subramaniam, among other.
Following an interaction with chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and the Union water resources secretary, under whose charge the Polavaram Project is being monitored as a 100% Centrally funded project since 2014, Samantara told news person in Delhi that they have demanded "a full-fledged judicial inquiry into the nexus of middlemen and officials who are allegedly "swindling huge chunk of the rehabilitation money and the state exchequer."
R Shridhar of the Environics Trust, who accompanied him, said, Poalvaram was a classic case wherein "without an unambiguous clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, and public hearings in all affected areas, the project works are going ahead with least regard to the enormous scale of social and environmental impacts."
Sanghamitra told newspersons that, as per the records of Andhra Pradesh, 372 villages are slated to be submergence and a total of 1,06,798.63 acres of land in East Godavari and 51,858 acres of land in West Godavari is being acquired for the project. "The Centre, along with the recently constituted Inter-Ministerial R&R Monitoring Committee of Government of India, are legally mandated to ensure that LARR Act and FRA Act are fully implemented before acquisition and submergence".
"As the supreme constitutional custodian of the rights of adivasis in Schedule V areas, and Polavaram being a National Project, the President is directly responsible for the well-being of the one lakh adivasis in the region", said Vimalbhai of the Matu Jan Sangathan. He added, "The Centre must play a very proactive role in monitoring the overall project and not merely the engineering works."
If social worker Bapji Juvvala stated that locally they have "unearthed evidence of numerous instances of corruption, in which many middlemen, officials and political party leaders are involved", with the state government remaining "completely nonchalant", Krishnanaveni of Darbagudem panchayat noted, the state was trying to create conflict amongst adivasis by ‘rehabilitating’ some project affected adivasis on the lands of other adivasis.

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