Moved by the plight of fishermen being pushed into abject poverty due to construction of Polavaram Dam on Godavari river which is obstructing the natural perennial flow of water in the river, the National Green Tribunal has issued notice to the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government seeking their response to the allegations of lack of planning in the Polavaram project and violation of conditions of environmental clearance.
A bench of Acting Chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim issued notices on a petition moved by Pothabathula Nageswara Rao, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, who claimed to be working to safeguard the interests of fishermen in the Polavaram area and ecological conservation.
Rao’s counsel Pragya Parijat Singh said the Polavaram project has been declared a national project but the Polavaram Project Authority has failed to adhere to various conditions of the EC granted to it in the year 2005 which included rehabilitation of 1,93,357 persons affected by this project and proposed fishing ladder to be constructed for migration of fishes.
She informed the tribunal that the authority has been building a "Diaphragm wall", a cofferdam built over Godavari River to facilitate construction of the dam, but the same is leading to a devastating effect on the marine life in river thereby affecting the livelihood of hundreds of fisherman in and around the Polavaram area.
“Godavari or Dakshin Ganga is perennial in nature and acts as a lifeline for the people of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Due to the construction of diaphragm wall/coffer dam, the environmental flow of the river is obstructed. The water is getting dried up and thousands of fishermen are stranded due to loss of livelihood. Not just that, the ecology is getting disturbed as the aquatic life is suffering. All these are in clear abrogation of environmental clearance dated 25-10-05. The [fishermen] are traditional [fishermen] and know nothing except traditional fishing. [Their] boats are lying idle and they are devoid of any work,” she said while praying for a direction to all concerned to ensure that the construction activity on the dam should not adversely affect the fishermen in the region.
The petition also prayed for maintenance of minimum environmental flow in Godavari River in line with the recent NGT judgment where it had directed that 20 percent minimum environment flow should be maintained in the Ganges from Haridwar onwards on the basis of average lean season flow.
The bench, which also issued notices to the Polavaram Project Authority, Inter-Ministerial Monitoring Committee and the Central Inland Fisheries Institute, was also informed that even as the Superintendent Engineer of the project submitted a report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in November 2017 stating that a provision has been made for fish ladder in spillway in consultation with Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute, Barrackpore, but the same has not been given effect to on ground.
“Thousands of fishermen have been using Godavari for centuries which has a permanent environmental flow but the project proponent has started construction of Diaphragm wall/ coffer dam which has been obstructing the natural flow of the water and the fishermen cannot now fish in that area.
“Nearly 8,000 fisherman families live In Polavaram, Gutala, Pattiseema, Tadipudi, Tallapudi, Vegeswarapuram, Devipatnam, and other upstream river villages like Tekuru. In particular, fishermen from Tekuru in Koruturu Panchayats right upto Tallapudi and Vegeswarapuram, Polavarum Panchayats in the West Godavari and Devipatnam in the East Godavari are the most affected as they are totally dependent on the "Environmental flow" of river Godavari for their livelihood and sustenance,” said the petitioner.
The petition said many of these fishermen are so poor that they live in country-made boats and know nothing but fishing for their livelihood which revolves around the Godavari.
“…due to the construction of this diaphragm wall, boats get stuck downstream. Also, the existing Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage makes it impossible for the fishermen to fish downstream/between Polavaram to Davaleswar reservoir area thus these people are struck between Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage and the Cofferdam, Diaphragm wall while earlier stretches of fishing included Singannapalli and Kondrukela,” it added.
Advocate Singh said though as per law, it is mandatory to obtain specific permission, hold public hearings and obtain environmental clearance, the same has not been done in this case.
She informed that river Godavari also flows through "Papikondalu National Park" which is under the supervision of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The Park is located in Godavari and West Godavari districts and thus with the construction of such a (diaphragm) wall, not just the marine life but the wildlife in this park will be gravely impacted.