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Centre faces Polavaram heat

New Delhi, Nov. 18: The Supreme Court today granted the Union government one last opportunity to reply to Orissa’s allegation that Andhra Pradesh was continuing with the Polavaram project violating all guidelines. The Naveen Patnaik government has demanded an immediate stay on the project which threatens to submerge some of its tribal areas.

At one point of time, a two-judge bench, comprising Justices Mukundakam Sharma and Anil R. Dave, threatened the Union government that it would grant a stay as requested by Orissa, if it did not file its reply, but stopped short of actually passing it. The Centre’s request to give it four more weeks to reply to these petitions attracted flak from the court. However, it granted the Centre not four but six weeks to reply. The case would come up for hearing again after eight weeks.

The Andhra government said that it had filed all its replies in the case. The state insists that all environmental requirements were fulfiled.

Maharashtra, through senior counsel T. Andhyarujina, and Karnataka, also sought permission to be impleaded in the matter. Andhyarujina insisted that his state was also party to the water-sharing agreement.

Orissa, however, vehemently argued against making the two other states (who are in favour of the project), parties to the case. “These states want to be impleaded on the ground that if the project were constructed, some benefits would accrue to them,” senior counsel Raju Ramachandran said speaking for the state of Orissa.

Andhyarujina contested this saying that Maharashtra was a party to the original water-sharing agreement which had the backing of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Orissa government also placed on record a recent ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) move on November 2, 2010, to ask Andhra Pradesh to explain why a show-cause notice may not be formally issued to it on the project for initiating work on certain additional project structures without environmental clearances and public hearings in Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

In a letter to the Andhra Pradesh irrigation department, the ministry had said that after the project received environmental clearance in October 2005, the project was referred to the Central Water Commission in January 2009 with proposals for construction of embankments to avoid land submergence in Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

The environmental appraisal committee had informed the state to conduct public hearings in both states. However, till date, public hearings in these states have not been held, the ministry said. The ministry then asked Andhra Pradesh to explain why it was yet to hold public hearings 18 months after it was asked to do so.

The Orissa government drew the Centre’s demand to explain work on these additional structures to support its claim for an immediate stay on the project.

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