Monday, December 5, 2011

Mullaperiyar : A National Disaster waiting to happen.

FAQ: What is the Mullaperiyar dam issue?

Last updated on: December 1, 2011 09:01 IST
A view of the Mullaperiyar dam
The flame over the age-old Mullaperiyar dam row has once again reached Parliament's doorsteps. None of the two conflicting parties -- namely governments in Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- seem to be in a mood to back off, and the controversy is set to become an additional headache for the already cornered UPA government at the Centre. tries to explain the different contours of the issue.
Where is the Mullaperiyar dam, and when was it constructed?
The Mullaperiyar Dam was constructed by the British during 1887-1895 across Periyar River in the then Travancore state (now Kerala) territory. The dam, with full reservoir level of 152 ft. provides for diversion of water from the reservoir through a tunnel to Vaigai basin in Tamil Nadu for irrigation benefits.
A 999-year lease was made, and accordingly, the Tamil Nadu government has been operating the dam. The Periyar power station in TN produces hydro-electric power from these waters and distributes that electricity in the state.
Who benefited from the dam?
Apart from providing drinking water to the people of Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram, the diverted waters helped irrigate about 80,000 hectares of parched land in these districts.
So what is the problem now?
The dam is one of the oldest  in service in the world, at 105 years. The average life-span of a well-built and well-designed dam is considered to be 50-60 years by experts. When the British built the dam, they expected its life span to be around 2,000 years. (?)
But didn't the British build it?
The Mullaperiyar Dam was made using old technology, and not based on the modern parameters for design of dams. In this case, much of the building material used in the construction has been leached out, by wear and tear.
But then again, in 1930s, Tamil Nadu engineers bored 80 holes in the dam and injected 40 tonne of cement solution to plug seepage. Again in 1933, grouting technology was used to strengthen the dam. In 1960, 502 tonne of cement solution was injected. All this was done without any outside prodding.

The Kallanai dam

So, the dam is virtually safe?
Well, after a few minor earthquakes in 1979 in regions surrounding the dam, security issues were raised over its security. Since then, both the Kerala and TN governments have been at loggerheads over the security issue.
Later, experts from Indian Institute of Technology also examined the dam, and mentioned that the dam will not withstand an earthquake.
What does the TN government have to say about it?
The TN government refutes allegations that age has withered the dam. There are arguments that if the world's oldest Kallanai dam (built in the second century AD) in Srirangam in Tiruchirapali district is still functional and continues to irrigate about 4,000 sqkm, why can't the Mullaperiyar be as well.
So, where do the two governments stand?
The Kerala government's contention is that in case the dam breaks, the three dams downstream -- Idukki, Cheruthoni and Kolamavu – will not be able to withhold the pressure, which will put the lives of 3.5 million people in the state.
On the other hand, the TN government maintains that if the Mullaperiyar is demolished, it will create water scarcity in five districts of the state, leading to a drought in the region.
(Left) Kerala Chief minister Oomen Chandy (Right) Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa

Have they tried no middle path?
Since 1978, Kerala has been demanding the construction of a new dam. As a reaction to these demands, the TN government brought the water level down from 152ft to 132ft to allay the fears. They agreed upon restoring the water levels once the strengthening works were over. But that matter went in court. In 2006, the water levels were restored.
TN has objection on the idea of Kerala constructing a new dam, because it would mean that the 999-year lease would be void, and it would have to surrender the 8,000 acres of land under its control to Kerala. It also accuses the Kerala government of whipping up a fear wave among its people about the safety of Mullaperiyar.
So is there a solution in the near future?
The matter is still being debated.

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

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 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.

Mullaperiyar dam: An unimaginable disaster waiting to happen

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

There has been no substantial action taken in all these years by anyone to avoid this catastrophe.

The political parties in Tamil Nadu are no way ready to budge to any suggestions.

I would like everyone in this country to come forward and demand action as Indians, without the stamp of ethnicity or states attached.

We cannot let this disaster happen.

Dipu Santh is the brother of Indian cricketer S Sreesanth

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