The mega Polavaram project on the Godavari - declared a national project in the AP Bifurcation Act, 2014 - has reached a critical point, at a time when the Telugu Desam-BJP Government has completed three years in the state and the NDA Government at the Centre. But there is still a long way ahead.

According to the state government and Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, the coffer dam construction will be completed by next June and water will be released by gravitational flow. The entire project, including the power project to generate 960 MW, will be ready by June 2019.

Going by the pace of work so far, it will be quite an achievement if it happens. However, the pace of construction has increased in the past six months, with the Chief Minister conducting weekly reviews and prodding the officials to expedite the work.

In February, work on the diaphragm wall began and work on the spillway quickened. The Chief Minister is to lay the foundation stone for the work on the coffer dam on Thursday and he has expressed confidence that it will be completed in a year's time. In fact, work on the coffer dam should have begun by now, but delays in the approval of designs delayed the work. Work on fabrication of crest gates is also going on simultaneously.

Seven to eight companies, including L&T, Transstroy and Triveni, are working at the project site at Polavaram in West Godavari district. There are reports that some of the companies have been slack in execution of works and were unable to maintain the requisite speed for scheduled completion of the project.

Funding: It is estimated that the project cost may well touch Rs 40,000 crore at present rates, including the rehabilitation package, which alone accounts for more than Rs 30,000 crore. The Union Government has promised to bear the entire cost for the irrigation component. But there are still lingering doubts whether the cost will be calculated according to 2011 rates, or the present rates. At 2011 rates the project cost (irrigation component) was calculated at Rs 16,000 crore.

Rehabilitation: The seven mandals in Khammam district of Telangana facing submersion due to the Polavaram project, were merged in Andhra Pradesh immediately after the NDA Government assumed charge in 2014, paving the way for the construction of the project. People from villages in these mandals would have to be rehabilitated in the two Godavari districts - East and West - now. It is one of the biggest challenges facing the State Government.

The NDA government has released roughly Rs 3,500 crore since 2014 for the project and the state government is expecting the Centre to release a similar amount for expenditure already incurred on the project.

Lift schemes: However, even if the project is delayed or perhaps anticipating some delay, the state government has taken up two lift irrigation projects - one at Pattiseema in West Godavari district and the other at Purushottamapatnam in East Godavari. The Pattiseema lift project has already been completed and, therefore, 80 tmc ft of Godavari waters can be diverted to Prakasam barrage at Vijayawada to stabilise the Krishna delta, one of the main objectives of Polavaram project.

The Purushottampatnam lift scheme is scheduled to be completed by September-October and it could provide drinking water to Visakhapatnam city as well as for industrial needs (for Vizag steel plant and other units coming up in the district). However, bringing an additional 7 lakh acres under irrigation in the two Godavari districts and Visakhapatnam, besides generation of 960 MW of power can only be realised after the completion of the project.

"The construction of the Polavaram project as quickly as possible and also the new capital, Amaravati, is high on my agenda. Polavaram and Amaravati are, in fact, my two eyes," says Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. His political future - the state's future as well - depends on the two.