Polavaram Dam Project

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The Polavaram Project is a national multi-purpose irrigation project involving the construction of a dam across the Godavari River in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, India.


The National River-Linking Project, initiated by the Indian Ministry of Water Resources, aims to address water scarcity in India. Its objective is to transfer excess water from Himalayan rivers to peninsular rivers within the country. This project comprises 30 river-links covering a total distance of 14,900 kilometres (9,300 mi), making it the largest infrastructure project worldwide. In 1999, this endeavor was estimated to cost US$120 billion. The project identifies the Godavari River basin as a source of surplus water and acknowledges the Krishna River basin’s insufficient water resources. By 2008, around 644 tmcft of underutilised water from the Godavari River had flowed into the Bay of Bengal. To meet future water demands by 2025, it is recommended that a significant amount of surplus water be transferred from the Godavari River basin to the Krishna River basin.

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The first proposal for the project was made in July 1941 by the Madras Presidency. L. Venkata Krishna Iyer, the chief engineer of the presidency’s irrigation department, conducted a survey of the project site and proposed a reservoir at Polavaram. This reservoir aimed to cultivate 350,000 acres of land over two crop seasons and include a 40 megawatt hydroelectric plant. The estimated cost of the entire project was 65 million (US$990,000). The initial designs of Polavaram dam included a full reservoir level (FRL) of 208 ft MSL, with a gross storage capacity of 836 tmcft and a 150 MW hydroelectric plant. By 1946-47, the cost estimation increased to 1.29 billion. The project was named Ramapada Sagar Project as the backwaters of the reservoir would touch the Lord Rama temple at Bhadrachalam. In the final design by Dr.K.L. Rao, the right bank canal of Polavaram project extended to the south of Krishna River to meet irrigation needs in the old Guntur district through an aqueduct across the Krishna River.

The current project being built has been reduced to FRL 150 ft MSL. The estimated cost of the project in 2004 was 86.21 billion.[7]

In 1980, the project was initiated by then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh T. Anjaiah by laying the foundation stone. However, until 2004 when the Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy-led government assumed power, the project remained inactive. In 2004, the Government of Andhra Pradesh provided a funding of 13.2 billion (US$200 million) for the project. Subsequently, tenders were issued for the corresponding services of the right canal. The state government also sanctioned an additional 13.53 billion for the left canal.

The construction of the dam at Polavaram was not feasible during the last century due to technological and economic reasons. The proposed site is situated where the river transitions from the Eastern Ghats into plains with deep alluvial sandy layers. The width of the river at Polavaram is approximately 1500 m. However, the excavation required to reach the hard rock at this site, which is more than 30 m deep, made the project economically unviable. Nonetheless, an attractive alternative site exists upstream of Polavaram, where the river flows through deep gorges in the Papi hill range. In this rocky gorge stretch, the width of the river is only about 300 m. Thirty years ago, it was considered technically challenging to connect the reservoir to the irrigation canals via tunnels in the ghat area. Additionally, constructing an underground hydroelectric station at this alternate site was more costly compared to a river bed based hydroelectric station. When the project began in 2004, the old finalized designs for the Polavaram site were adopted without re-evaluating the latest costs associated with the upstream alternate site, taking into account advancements in construction technology for tunnels and underground hydroelectric stations. Progress in the construction of dam structures and the hydroelectric station has been almost non-existent until 2012. The alternate site in the gorge stretch is still worthy of reconsideration to reduce the continuously increasing costs of the Polavaram dam.

The Polavaram Project is built on a foundation of Khondalite bedrock, which includes feldspar-rich minerals such as soft graphite and hard garnet. Unfortunately, Khondalites are highly weathered and therefore not suitable for use at the dam site.[1]

According to the information from 2004, the proposed project can hold 75.2 tmcft, which would allow for the irrigation of an extra 232,000 acres in several districts of Andhra Pradesh: Krishna, West Godavari, East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, and Srikakulam.[7]

The proposed project entails the construction of a 2,310-meter (7,580 ft) dam made of earth-cum-rock fill. The dam includes a spillway with 44 vents, measuring 907 meters (2,976 ft) in length and allowing for the discharge of 3,600,000 cu ft/s (100,000 m3/s) of water. Additionally, there are plans to install 12 water turbines on the left side with an individual capacity of 80 megawatts. A right canal connects to Krishna River upstream of Prakasam Barrage and discharges 17,500 cu ft/s (500 m3/s) at the head works over a distance of 173 kilometers (107 mi). Similarly, the left canal has identical discharge rates and stretches for 182 kilometers (113 mi).[7]

This proposed project will lead to the displacement of 276 villages and affect a total of 44,574 families across three districts in Andhra Pradesh. Among those affected are numerous tribal communities. Activists advocating for human rights oppose this project based on these grounds. One activist also expressed concerns about its negative impact on Telangana and Rayalaseema regions within the state.[14] Environmental activist Medha Patkar further emphasized that this project would result in thousands of families being displaced as well as submerging archaeological sites, coal deposits, a wildlife sanctuary, and hectares of farmland.[15]

In 2005, the Government of Andhra Pradesh received environmental clearance for a project. This clearance was obtained after developing a forest management plan and rehabilitation proposal. The project involved the loss of 59,756 hectares. Furthermore, each displaced individual would be given an allotment of 40,000 for their new dwelling, which was more than the amount offered by other states (25,000). However, political obstacles emerged despite this clearance. Concerns were raised by the Communist Party of India (M) and Telangana Rashtra Samithi regarding the submergence of agricultural lands and potential harm to Telangana.

The project began in April 2006 and was scheduled to be finished by February 2007. However, it faced a temporary suspension in May 2006 due to the need for clearance from the Ministry of Forests and Environment. At that time, the excavation work for the canal was 30% complete and the spillway works were 15% complete.[19][20]

The state of Orissa expressed worry about the potential flooding of its land and decided to discuss the problem with officials from Andhra Pradesh.[21] In reply, Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy guaranteed that the construction would not harm Orissa or Chattisgarh.[22] The issue continued until 2010 when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of Orissa requested compensation and resettlement for the indigenous people who would lose their homes due to the flooding.[23]

Orissa and Chattisgarh have jointly filed a petition in the Supreme Court to oppose a Project that may result in substantial land submergence in their states. They assert that Andhra Pradesh is carrying out the project without obtaining necessary approvals from the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Environment Ministry, and that no public consultations were held in the affected regions.

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Polavaram Dam Project. (2016, Aug 15). Retrieved from


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