Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mullaperiyar dam:

An unimaginable disaster waiting to happen

Last updated on: November 30, 2011 09:08 IST

File photo of the Mullaperiyar dam
Dipu Santh 

If an earthquake causes the dam to collapse, it can threaten the lives of 3.5 million people downstream. The issue needs to be looked at as a national problem, not as a dispute between two states, says Dipu Santh

India is said to be a country that upholds the slogan "unity in diversity". We proudly state this to everyone around the world, but there is a question that we have to ask ourselves -- is it true or is it just a statement we put forward to hide our failings?

There's a small example I would like to put forward, the present Mullaperiyar dam crisis which should by all means be seen as a national issue rather than an issue between two states. 

If we dig deep and go into the history, the Mullaperiyar Dam is a masonry gravity dam built over the river Periyar in 1895 during the British colonial rule with a predicted life span of 50 years to divert water eastwards towards the Madras presidency area (present day Tamil Nadu).

The diverted water from this dam is used for irrigation in Sivaganga, Theni, Madurai and Ramanathapuram districts. The Periyar power station in Tamil Nadu produces hydro-electric power from these waters and distributes that electricity in Tamil Nadu.
File photo of the Idukki dam

Now getting into the controversial part, the catchment areas and river basin downstream includes five major districts of central Kerala -- Idukki, Ernakulum, Kottayam, Alapuzha and Trissur -- which has a total population of 3.5 million people.

In 1979, there were few minor earthquakes experienced in the regions surrounding the dam following which safety concerns were raised over the dam. Since then, both states Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads with each other on the issue.

A state agency had reported that the dam will not withstand an earthquake above magnitude 6 on the Richter scale.

(Left) Kerala Chief minister Oomen Chandy (Right) Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa

Experts from IIT Delhi & Roorkee had mentioned that the structure will not withstand an earthquake and is under serious threat. After all these reminders and 32 years of legal battle, both parties have not reached a consensus on this issue. 
Even after the Kerala government's promise to give water and construct a new dam undertaking all the expenses, subsequent Tamil Nadu governments have turned a blind eye towards any suggestions or negotiations by Kerala. 
The reasons raised by Tamil Nadu are water scarcity in five districts of Tamil Nadu which will lead to drought in the region, a valid reason.

In response to this the Kerala government has promised to deliver the same amount of water to Tamil Nadu without fail. Here arises the concern of people living in the downstream of this river.

If the Mullaperiyar dam collapses, three dams downstream -- Idukki, Cheruthoni and Kolamavu won't be able to withhold the incoming water (around 15 TMC) which in turn will break these dams, resulting in a catastrophe that will put at risk the lives of 3.5 million people. 
A dam which has surpassed its lifespan by more than 66 years poses a threat to the lives of 3.5 million people living in five districts of Kerala. 

The big question is: Are the lives of 3.5 million Indians who are living today in anxiety and fear of a possible wipe out important to this country? 
A civilization is under the threat of a wipe-out.
Whenever a terror attack or security breach happens in our country, we point fingers at our neighbouring country. 

But here is a problem that can take the lives of so many innocent Indians, which can be stopped.

And what exactly is our political leadership in this country doing? Nothing.


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