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Decades-old Neradi Barrage, border village disputes to be discussed as Andhra, Odisha CMs meet

Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Naveen Patnaik will meet Tuesday, and are set to discuss the Vamsadhara river irrigation project and disputed villages in Koraput district.

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Hyderabad: A meeting between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, to be held Tuesday, has raised hopes that there may finally be an amicable resolution to decades-old inter-state issues.

“The meeting is expected to go on for two hours easily. Jagan held a review meeting Monday asking officials to keep all necessary documentation ready. Senior officials from both sides are also expected to attend the meeting,” an Andhra government official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

Among the issues that are likely to come up for discussion is the dispute over the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to construct the Neradi barrage over the Vamsadhara river.

The 265-kilometre-long Vamsadhara originates in Kalahandi district of Odisha and joins the Bay of Bengal at Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Of its total length, 154 km lies in Odisha, about 29 km forms the common boundary between the two states, and the remaining 82 km flows in Andhra Pradesh. It is considered the main river of Andhra’s north-eastern region.

In 1962, the Andhra Pradesh government decided to construct the Neradi Barrage to meet its irrigation requirements, calling it the Vamsadhara Project or Boddepalli Rajagopala Rao Project. But the Odisha government opposed it on the grounds that the construction would leave hundreds of acres of many farmlands submerged.

Andhra, in 1977, constructed the Gotta Barrage under Phase 1 of the project to utilise 30 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water to irrigate nearly 2 lakh acres of land. Under Phase 2, the construction of Neradi Barrage (about 48 km upstream of Gotta Barrage) was proposed.

The Vamsadhara Water Disputes Tribunal was set up in 2010 after Odisha approached the Centre. Though the Odisha government had agreed in principle to the construction of the barrage, it opposed it later, citing the possibility of excess land acquisition from its border areas and primarily backwater effect due to the barrage following floods in 1980.

In its final order in 2017, the tribunal permitted the Andhra government to construct the Neradi Barrage and directed Odisha to acquire 106 acres of land in its region and hand it over to Andhra for construction.

The tribunal, in its decision, also declared that the yield of the river at Gotta Barrage (115 TMC) should be shared equally by both states.

The Neradi Barrage, along with irrigating 2.5 lakh acres in Andhra’s Srikakulam district, is also expected to provide water to 30,000 acres of land in Odisha.

Despite the tribunal’s orders, the Odisha government has not made any acquisition yet and has remained quiet on the issue, which has become an obstacle for the Neradi barrage construction, say Andhra officials.

“The tribunal asked Odisha to acquire 106 acres of land and hand it over to us. The barrage will help us divert 20 TMC water which will be sent to Hiramandalam Reservoir in Andhra for irrigation. Odisha says that flood-prone areas will be submerged but we have assured that we will build flood protection during the construction. Around 20 acres will be purely used for this,” D. Tirumala Rao, superintending engineer of the Vamsadhara Project, told ThePrint.

Amid the ongoing dispute, a side weir was constructed by the Andhra Pradesh government in 2018 to utilise 8 TMC of water of the 70 TMC that was going unused.

“This river dispute has been there since 1962. But with this meeting (between the CMs), we are hoping that on several disputed issues, there will be a positive outcome,” Rao added.

Also read: Two Telugu states, one river — why Andhra & Telangana are fighting it out over the Krishna

Other disputes

Two other irrigation projects — Janjhavati River Project and Andhra’s massive Polavaram Project, which has been declared a national project by the Centre — have also become a bone of contention with Odisha.

The dispute over Janjhavati River Project dates back to 1978. The project envisages utilising 4 TMC water from the river to irrigate 24,636 acres of land in Andhra’s Vizianagaram district. According to an inter-state agreement between the chief ministers of the two states in 1978, 8 TMC of water from the river was supposed to be shared equally, based on which the project was formulated.

“Here too, they (Odisha) objected saying that several tribal villages will be submerged. Andhra has offered a decent rehabilitation and resettlement package, but the Odisha government is not agreeing to it,” a senior Andhra government official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

Another issue likely to be discussed during the meeting is Polavaram — the backwaters of the project submerge some parts of lands not just in Odisha but also in Chhattisgarh. The Godavari River Tribunal instructed Andhra government to minimise the damage by constructing flood banks.

Border territorial issues

For long, Odisha and Andhra have locked horns over the Kotia gram panchayat in Odisha’s Koraput district. The two states also fought a legal battle over territorial control of this area as they moved the Supreme Court in 1968. The top court ordered status quo in the case in 2006.

However, the dispute, which started during Andhra Pradesh’s formation, still remains unresolved.

Kotia gram panchayat has 28 villages, of which 21 are under dispute. Odisha, reportedly, did not survey 21 villages when it was formed in 1936. And when Andhra was formed, the same 21 villages were also not surveyed by the state, which led to a dispute over these bordering villages.

The issue re-emerged after Andhra Pradesh conducted panchayat polls earlier this year in three disputed villages under Kotia gram panchayat.

In August this year, the Supreme Court had asked both states to resolve the issue through bilateral discussions after both approached the top court.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also read: Missed deadlines, cost overruns, tiff with Centre — why Polavaram isn’t yet Andhra’s ‘lifeline’


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