A plea alleging obstruction in the minimum environment flow in the Godavari river, due to the construction of a diaphragm wall at Polavaram Dam, has prompted the National Green Tribunal to seek responses from the Centre and others. A bench headed by acting NGT chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim, issued notices to the Polavaram Project Authority; Union Environment Ministry; Inter-Ministerial Monitoring Committee; Central Inland Fisheries Institute, Andhra Pradesh; District Collector of West Godavari and others, while seeking their replies before July 31, 2018.
The tribunal had recently asked all states to maintain a minimum environmental flow of 15 to 20 percent of the average lean season course in their rivers. E-flow defines the quantity, timing and quality of water flow required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems, besides human livelihood. Advocate Pragya Parijat Singh, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that the environmental flow of the river was being obstructed due to the construction of a diaphragm wall. She said the construction of such a wall has a devastating effect on marine wildlife in the river and the livelihood of 8,000 fishermen in and around the Polavaram area.
“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 October 25, 2005. The fishermen adopt traditional methods for fishing and there boats are lying idle and they are devoid of any work,” the lawyer stated.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Andhra Pradesh resident Pothabathula Nageswara Rao, seeking maintenance of minimum environment flow of the Godavari river at Polavaram dam site and directions to allow fishermen to continue fishing activity. The plea has also sought action against the project proponent for allegedly violating conditions enumerated in the environmental clearance.
The dam construction at Polavaram involves building of a 1.5 metre thick concrete diaphragm wall up to depths from 40 to 120 metre below the river bed under the earth. The purpose of a diaphragm wall is to secure the river bed stability for withstanding water pressure across the dam. Polavaram, which the Andhra Pradesh government terms as the ‘lifeline of the state’, has been declared as a national project under the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014. “The central government shall execute the project and obtain all requisite clearances, including forest, environmental and rehabilitation and resettlement. The Union should take under its control the regulation and development of Polavaram,” the Act says. Accordingly, the Centre constituted the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) for the purpose. The state government has been going ahead with its execution for the last four years.