Prof.T.Shivaji Rao,

Director, Centre for Environmental Studies,

Gitam University, Visakhapatnam- 530 045 INDIA

e-mail: profshivajirao@hotmail.com


  Andhra pradesh Chief Minister.demands polavaram project inspite of its damaging impacts.


 Andhra pradesh C.M.lays foundation stone for  polavaram  project, Nov.2004


Change Killer Polavaram Dam into a Safer Barrage Project


Presently there is a lot of confusion among the people,scientists,Engineers,politicians,officials and also the legal authorities about the propriety,advantages and disadvantages of building a major reservoir on Godavari at Polavaram .This confusion is justified by the contradictory views and information presented by the proponents and opponents of the project with the respect to the efficiency of agriculture and hydro-power production, safety of the dam, environmental impact assessment, risk management, inundation of forests rural and tribal villages, back water curve, rehabilitation and resettlement and cost benefit analysis.  People are also confused about the contradictory pronouncements by legal authorities on various crucial aspects of the project such as environmental clearance and rehabilitation and resettlement.Hence there is a need to discuss about some of the crucial implications of the proposed project

some people question whether Polavaram project can be treated like an "INDUSTRY". Polavaram project comes under the category of INDUSTRIES as defined by Supreme Court bench headed by Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer[1978]

see  :http://www.hinduonnet.com/2005/06/10/stories/2005061007801100.htm 

As per Section 2(j) of Industrial Disputes Act,1947 “Industry” means any systematic activity carried on by co-operation between an employer and his workmen(whether such workmen are employed by such employer directly or by or through any agency, including a contractor) for the production ,supply or distribution of goods or services with a view to satisfy human wants or wishes (not being wants or wishes which are merely spiritual or religious in nature), whether or not,-  

    1. any capital has been invested for the purpose of carrying on such activity; or
    2. such activity is carried on with a motive to make any gain or profit, and includes-
      1. any activity of the Dock Labour Board established under section 5-A of the Dock Workers ( Regulation of Employment)Act,1948( 9 of 1948);
      2. any activity relating to the promotion of sales or business or both carried on by an establishment,.

 1] Very Uneconomical Agriculture:Out of the 7.2 lakh acres expected to be irrigated by the project, the lift irrigation schemes of Tatipudi, Pushkaram and Chagalnadu, supply water to about 4.2 lakh acres that fall under Polavaram project ayacut  If we also deduct tank irrigation in this area.    Polavaram provides irrigation for a net area of about 2.5lakh acres and it  does not warrant for incurring enormous expenditure of about Rs.15,000 crores. While the expenditure to irrigate one acre is estimated at an average of Rs. 1 lakh per acre under other projects Polavaram project results in  a huge cost of Rs.4 lakhs per acre.  

 2] Violation of Bachawat Award conditions:The Orrissa and Chattisgarh states emphasise that Bachwat Tribunal gave clearance to Polavaram project in April 1980 on the condition that the spillway shall be designed for a  peak flood discharge of 36 lakhs cusecs.


AP State used the historical flood data of Godvari of Pre- 1980  days  and hence estimated  500-year return flood at a higher value of 36 lakhs cusecs and used the data for design of the dam, its spillway and also the backwater curve that determines the risk assessment, disaster management, areas of submersion and the rehabilitation and resettlement  which influence the cost benefit ratio of the project. Considering the  emerging Global warming impacts on the anticipated raise in the Extreme  floods by about 20% to 30% in Godavari river, the Central Water Commission directed in August 2006 that the AP State Government should upgrade the peak maximum flood from the 500-year recurring flood of 36 lakhs cusecs to 1000-year recurring flood of about 50 lakhs cusecs .Such a drastic change in the Probable Maximum Flood[PMF]was made by the A.P.state without the concurrence of  Orissa and chattisgarh which will face  highly magnified levels of submersion of their forest lands and tribal villages beyond their earlier expectations of 1980 and the states suffer irreparable loss for several reasons without any wortwhile  benefits to their people.

 Improper Environmental Clearance from Union Ministry of Environment& Forests:Unfortunately the AP State Government prepared the environmental impact assessment report based upon peak flood of 36 lakhs cusecs and obtained Environmental Clearance in a hurry in Oct 2005  Since the AP State Government did not cooperate whole-heartedly with the Orissa and Chattisgarh state Governments in conducting public hearings on Environmental Impact Assessment [EIA] reports in their states they strongly objected to Polavaram project by accusing that AP State violated Bachawat Tribunal ward conditions on two major grounds.  Firstly, before making such drastic changes in the design aspects which are based upon unilateral revision of probable maximum flood [PMF], the AP State did not take the consent of both the upper states whose interests are going to be adversely affected.  Secondly,as per Bachawat Award the Central Water Commission[CWC] has to finalise the design aspects of the dam which include the estimation of Probable Maximum Flood  and again CWC  only has to make the calculations for backwater curve based on PMF  and demarcate the vast submersible areas in the catchment in all the states.  Moreover,the AP State Government according to the Inter-state agreement has to fix permanent bench marks with refrence to the standard bench marks both  in Orissa and MP for +150ft levels  above the mean sea level and also for the peak flood level points due to thebackwater effect at intervals of one kilo-meter all along the periphery of Polavaram reservoir.  Unfortunately the AP state Government has considered 500-year return flood of 36 lakh cusecs and calculated the back water curve and determined the agricultural lands, forest lands, and tribal villages likely to be submerged in all the states and based upon such unscientific estimates the clearances from various departments of the Union Government were obtained.  Now the AP State Government must use the 1000 year return flood of 50 lakhs cusecs and revise the design of the dam, the spillway and the back water curve and on the basis of these revised extended areas ,the E.I.A.reports,the rehabilitation and resettlement schemes and other relevant reports must be freshly formulated.  Similarly the dam break analysis, the disaster management and environmental management reports alsomust be revised and fresh clearances from Environmental and Forest, Tribal Welfare, Agricultural, Water Resources, and Planning Commission must be obtained before going ahead with the construction work of the project.


3]WHY BARRAGE IS SAFER THAN A BIG DAM  AT POLAVARAM?Unfortunately Godvari experienced a peak flood of about 36 lakhs cuscs in August 1986.By unilaterally  raising the peak flood from 36 lakhs to 50 lakhs cusecs A.P. State  has violated the Bachawat Tribunal Award.  Since Polavaram dam stores about 200 TMC of water the PMF had to be raised to 50 lakh cusecs  as per standards applicable to a major Dam.If the A.P.state opted for a barrage at Polavaram ,it would not have been forced to provide  for more than 36 lakhs cusecs as applicable to the case  the case of the Cotton Barrage at Dhowleswaram where 13,000ft long spillway was constructed lng ago by the British engineers about 40 kms downstream of Polavaram 

  4]Under-estimating Submergence and Rehabilitation &Resettlement costs:Further the tribunal stated that central water commission must calculate the backwater curve due to the anticipated peak floods.  Unfortunately the AP State Government made false calculations on the peak flood and the back water curve and thereby undermined the safety of the dam and also the  magnitude of the inundation areas that influence the schemes of rehabilitation and resettlement.  Scientific design of the dam and costs of the project show that the benefits of the project will be far lesser than the cost of the project which does not permit the Planning Commission to accept the project in the interests of national economy.  As per Bachawat award, the AP State Government has to demarcate permanent bench marks on the periphery of the back- water curve at every km distance at an elevation of +150ft above the mean sea level and also at the highest flood water mark in the submersible areas including Orissa and Chattisgarh to enable all the states to come to an agreement for solving the problems of compensation and resettlement of oustees in the areas of submersion.  Without completing all these formalities the upper states  will not yield to the request of the AP State to consent for the project particularly because Orissa has suggested alternate schemes to avoid large scale submersion in the upper states by converting the proposed big Dam into a Barrage at Polavaram in addition to construction several barrages on the upstrem side of the river stretch in Telengana . The need for modifying the present hazardous project into a safer one is presented here by means of a few salient  points

1] In order to save the Bhadrachalam’s most sacred Rama Temple and several tribal villages from submersion , the Polavaram dam  can be  certainlymade people-friendly by converting it into a barrage the arguments to be advanced by Chattisgarh and Orissa in the Supreme Court are likely to be on the following lines for convincing A.P state to agree for replacement of the Big Dam by a smaller Barrage as previously suggested by Dr. A.N.Khosla, former Governor of Orissa. 

The states of Orissa and Chattisgarh consider Dr. K.L.Rao, the former Union Minister for Water Resources as an Eminent authority on irrigation projects like big dams. In the case of Polavaram project he made a frank statement (Indian Express news paper from Vijayawada, dated 30-4-1983) that the Polavaram dam is highly under-designed and hence a prescription for disaster. Dr.K.L..Rao ruled out the possibility of diverting surplus Godavari waters to the Krishna owing to defective designing of the Polavaram project only 1800 ft spillway was provided in the Polavaram project to clear 40 lakh cusecs of flood waters in the Godavari as against 13,000 ft long Dowlaiswaram anicut designed by Sir Arthur Cotton. Even Prakasam barrage was [over Krishna River at Vijayawada] designed to 6,280 ft. long though the flood water would not be more than 12 lakh cusecs, Dr.Rao said'It was simple arithmetic to understand that the Polavaram design would not work, he said.

2.] In the light of these serous technical comments from a very experienced expert Dr.K.L.Rao, the Orissa and Chattisgarh state Governments demand for a revision of the Polavaram project to ensure safety of people in all the states.

The intellectuals and the common people of Orissa and Chattisgarh have also carefully studied various websites on Polavaram project including the following ones.

http://profshivajirao.googlepag es.com/polavaramdamimages-4

.http://www.sandrp.in/drp/July2006.pdf    [Pages 14 & 15, objections before NEAA by states]

In the light of the above expert views presented in detail on Polavaram project the people must demand for reconsideration for the replacement of the proposed dam with a barrage to divert 80 TMC of Godavari water into Krishna River as promised by the A.P. state and also to produce food and electricity through alternate schemes as suggested by an international irrigation expert shri T.Hanumantha Rao of Hyderabad


3.] At the end of Paragraph 110 of the Bachawat Tribunal report it has been emphasized that a distinction must be drawn between submergence as a consequence of construction of the dam and submergence without the dam. The Bachawat tribunal suggested for avoiding or minimizing as far as possible the excess submergence caused by backwater due to construction of the Polavaram dam. For this purpose the tribunal insisted that the correct backwater effect /level due to Polavaram dam shall be determined by the Central Water Commission (CWC).This suggestion is perhaps to avoid conflicts among the basin states on the problems of submersion.


4.] Under paragraph 112 the tribunal wanted reduction in full supply levels of the right and left bank canals to slightly lower than +138ft and +137 ft and the effects of such reduction can be made good by introduction of lift irrigation systems on both sides. But Orissa and Madhya Pradesh insisted on 2-9-1979 that in order to limit the submergence to +150 ft, the FRL/MWL must be reduced. But the A.P. State Government prepared Environmental Impact Assessment report [EIA], Dam break analysis and Rehabilitation and Resettlement schemes on the assumption of a 500-year return flood of 36 lakhs cusecs. But the CWC norms of 1973 insist on estimating design flood as Probable Maximum Flood [PMF] or at least 1000 year return flood


5.] In August 2006 the AP state Government increased the design spillway flood from 36 lakhs cusecs to 49.5 lakhs cusecs and hence all the environmental clearances and rehabilitation and resettlement schemes based upon inappropriate data on design spillway flood become invalid and hence fresh clearances must be obtained from the various ministries of Government of India. In order to prepare the backwater curve for Polavaram dam the CWC first of all must estimate the PMF based on various factors including the Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP). CWC must revise the existing records by considering the latest reports on the impacts of Global warming due to increasing levels of deforestation and environmental pollution which are said to cause about 20% excess flood flows in Godavari and Narmada basins. CWC must estimate PMF for Polavaram dam based on similar estimates made for Sardar Sarovar Project CWC has estimated for design purposes a return flood period of 1 in 1000 years and the design flood was taken as 87,000 cumecs for the river catchment of 88,000 sq.kms and this is in tune with the latest design criteria formulated by the reputed experts of the International Commission on Large Dams, namely, L.Berga and F.Lemperiere who estimated the extreme flood at the rate of one cubic meter per second for sq.km of the catchment area.


6. ]On this basis the peak flood in Godavari at Polavaram for the catchment area of 3,06,643 sq.km comes to about 3,00,000 cumecs/sec which is equivalent to about 100 lakh cusecs and a similar figure of 2,91,693 cumecs was used for sensitive analysis under case-III (B) in the dam break analysis report submitted to the A.P. State Government in June 1999 by the experts of the Roorkee- based National Institute of Hydrology which is a technical wing of the water resources Ministry of the Government of India


Many countries in the world use Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) as the design flood for embankment dams due to the weakness of structure and a high rate of failure. The overall failure rate is estimated at 1% and the annual failure risk for any dam is about 0.00001.

In China the design flood is used for ordinary dams and structures that are exposed to normal flood conditions. But for structures, whose failure will cause heavy loss of life and property, the PMF should be considered as the extraordinary condition (Check condition) for embankment dams and a 10,000 year flood is adopted for concrete dams. For instance the design check flood criteria for embankment dams of Class-I is taken as PMF or 10,000 return period flood.


The safety criteria for peak design flood for dams in United Kingdom, USA and International Design Floods in South East Asia under website: http://kfki.baw.de/conferences/ICHE/2002-Warsaw/ARTICLES/PDF/129C=2.pdf


7.] Thus in deciding about the magnitude of Design flood for spillway it is not only the hydrological aspect but also the magnitude of the project in terms of the height of the dam and the water storage that should be considered. Moreover the downstream hazard potential and the type of the dam (concrete or embankment dams) also should be considered for choosing the design flood.This criteria was not followed by the Bachawat tribunal.

In the case of the Polavaram project the experts of the National Institute of Hydrology considered the previous historical flood of 35 lakh cusecs (one lakh cubic meters/sec) but also the flood flow arising from transformation of the stagnant reservoir storage of about 194 TMC behind the dam and the consequential flow and hence the inflow flood was taken as 1,70,000 cumecs. If the Polavaram project gets rid of the dam and replaces it with a barrage there will be only natural peak floods of the order of historical flood of 1986 of one lakh cumecs which can be handled by the existing structuresand also by other modern  water management practices


8.] Hence a barrage must be preferred at Polavaram instead of the dam because the dam contributes for a huge quantity of extra flood flow that causes a disaster, killing millions of people in Godavari delta. Such a catastrophic failure of the dam leads to economic ruination of the Andhra Pradesh state in particular and the whole country in general. Since Orissa and Chattisgarh state Governments are against economic ruination of India due to a Dam burst at Polavaram, a revision of the project must be made immediately as demanded by them


The people of Orissa and Chattisgarh are worried that there will be extensive additional submersion of forest lands and tribal villages and displacement of thousands of tribals from Chattisgarh and Orissa due to construction of a big dam instead of barrage across Godavari at Polavaram. They are shocked that while the original interstate agreement between Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orissa has been based on peak flood discharge of 36 lakhs cusecs on the basis of a 500-year return flood while the Central Water Commission [CWC] directed AP state to follow the Design standards for Dams and redesign the project for Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) which is about 1.5 times the previous historical flood, the PMF is estimated at 49.5 lakh cusecs


9.] Due to this change in peak flood for spillway design, the original character of the whole project has been drastically changed and hence the Bachawat Tribunal Award based upon the interstate agreement dt. 2-4-1980 and the endorsement dt.3-4-1980 of the Government of India make the Award invalid under the present conditions including Environmental Protection Act,1986 that came into operation in 1986. Hence the project has to be redesigned


10.] A.P. State Government originally promised that Polavaram dam water storage will be so regulated that the submersion of lands and villages in Orissa and Chattisgarh will not exceed +150ft above the mean sea level. But with the increase of peak flood from 36 lakhs cusecs to the PMF of 49.5 lakhs cusecs, the backwater curve due to the dam is estimated to reach about +190ft elevation at Konta and Motu regions and this will result in extensive submersion of good forests and submersion of about 100 additional villages in upper states and Andhra pradesh Such a large scale submersion will cause migration of lakhs tribals into the upper hilly areas for resettlement where extensive deforestation will cause havoc to the local eco-systems, soil erosion and siltation of tanks and reservoirs in the lower regions


11]. Since Godavari will have floods only for about 3 months from July to September it is not possible to generate 960 MW of hydro-electricity during the remain 9 months of the year when there will be not much flow in the river . Hence the contention of the AP State Engineers that they require a huge dam instead of a barrage for the sake of power generation is not correct. This is merely a pretext to have a big dam at Polavaram instead of a barrage as suggested by Dr.A.N.Khosla’s Technical committee of 1953 and Dr.D.N.Gulati’s, Technical Committee of 1963.Thus the project needs to be revised


Most of the people in Orissa and Chattisgarh regularly undertake pilgrimage to the most famous and Sacred temple of Rama at Bhadrachalam and the lakhs of Hindu devotees of this temple are demanding that they do not want Orissa and Chattisgarh state Governments to agree for the construction of a big dam at Polavaram which has to deal with peak flood of 50 lakhs cusecs and such a flood is bound to have a back- water curve upto Bhadrachalam and the back-up flood waters will drown this holy temple and that should be avoided to protect the culture of the people of the region


12] During August 2006 the floods in Godavari at the level of 28.5 lakh cusecs is reported to have inundated lands which affected 2.5 lakhs of people in 369 villages while the state Government estimated that for a peak flood of 36 lakhs cusecs about 1,80,000 people will be displaced from 276 villages including 4 from Chattisgarh and 8 from Orissa. Hence the A.P. State Government has under-estimated the figures for inundation due to floods. It is estimated that about 100 villages will be effected in the upper states including about 20 villages in Chattisgarh. Hence the Polavaram dam must be constructed without submerging any forests and tribal villages in Orissa and Chattisgarh as it is possible to do and still reap the same economic benefits by wisely spending the same or perhaps lesser amount of money for irrigation projects over Godavari river


13.] With regard to the action to be taken by the people of Andhra Pradesh for obtaining the Godavari waters by diverting the same from Polavaram they must consider the objections raised by the Chattisgarh and Orissa state Governments and also the views of the most reputed experts like Dr.K.L.Rao, Dr. A. N. Khosla and Dr. N.D. Gulati under the existing circumstances the people of Andhra Pradesh must exert pressure over their elected representatives to demand for a barrage in place of a very hazardous dam to augment water supply in Krishna river and thereby provide water for drought prone districts of Rayalaseema and Telangana


It is only the Engineers and bureaucrats who are keenly fighting for a big dam for their own selfish interests even at the cost of public interest. If necessary, public debates must be conducted in different places in the state so that the interests of the state and the nation are protected. The people of Orissa ,Chattisgarh and also Andhra pradesh must debate on this crucial problem in Schools,colleges and Universities to create public awareness among the common people and advise the Government on the action to be taken to avoid a man-made disaster so that the economic ruination of the nation can be avoided

The following Table presents the Back-Water curve calculations  made of scientific lines by following standard methods and computr models to identify the areas of Submersion in Orissa,Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

Bachawat Tribunal Report contains Back-water Levels estimated by a.p.state Government for peak flood values of 30,00,000 cusecs and 36,00,000 cusecs at the sites of polavaram, Kunavaram and Konta. Konta experiences floods at 6 to 12 inches higher levels than Kunavaram.



Name of the site



PMF  With  Elevations (Peak flood  Discharge in Cumecs)


(30 lakh cusecs)


(36 lakh cusecs)


(48 lakh cusecs)


(54lakh cusecs)

i) Without dam



28.06m (92.07ft)

28.92m (94.88ft)

30.6m (100.48ft)



47.9 m (157.2 ft)

50.5m (165.8ft)











61.76m(202.6 ft)


ii) With the dam (with different pond levels due to floods)

a) Polavaram















b) Polavaram






52.18m(171.2 ft)

54.18 m(177.8)





58.93m (193.3)



Note:1] The above  values are based upon the information from the Bachawat Tribunal Report and the calculations made by the author on the basis of the Advanced Numerical Methods using the Standard-step Method described by K.Subrahmanya in his standard book on "Flow in Open Channels".  


                 POLAVARAM PROJECT :..SEE WEB SITE: http://www.sandrp.in/drp/July2006.pdf    [see pages 14 & 15]

                 based on old data of  2005 and not on the CWC revised Peak Maximum Flood of 50 lakh-Cusecs of 2006

 Note:3] Judgement of National   Environmental Appellate Authority:http://www.livemint.com/polavaram.htm

 Note:4]  Ground levels of Kunavaram of Andhra pradesh and Konta of Chattisgarh are approximately  same