Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mullaperiyar: Quite a dam-age

Quite a dam-age

Sreelatha Menon / 
New Delhi December 04, 2011, 0:42 IST

Kerala’s woes of the ageing Mullaperiyar Dam point to the state’s irrational water-sharing agreements.

Kerala today wants to shut down the Mullaperiyar Dam, a 116-year-old dam which provides the waters of Periyar river to Tamil Nadu. The reasons cited are the age of the dam and safety of three million people who live in downstream areas.

However, the Kerala government cannot do much unilaterally, as a pact allows Tamil Nadu to operate the dam and decide the levels of water stored there. The controversy exposes the historic blunders of successive Kerala governments in failing to protect the rights of the state as opposed to the efficiency of the politicians of Tamil Nadu in ensuring the best possible for their people.

The National Register of Large Dams is a database maintained by the Central Water Commission. If one was to look for the Mullaperiyar Dam among the dams listed under Kerala, the name would be missing. In fact, Kerala has no dam which is this old. As for the recent ones, names of three of these are missing.

But, in the list of dams under Tamil Nadu, these dams are very much there. These include Mullaperiyar Dam and the three dams built under the Parambikulam Aliyar agreement in 1970.

Kerala has knowingly forfeited the right over four dams on its soil. It is proof of the empathy that exists between the people of the two states that Kerala has never denied water to its neighbour and never violated any of the agreements.
But to allow another state to manage the infrastructure projects in its territory is unheard of. It might as well ask another state to operate its transport system, run its schools and hospitals.

There is no such instance in the whole country, says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People. Mullaperiyar Dam is a part of pre-independence history. It was a lease deed executed in 1886 between the Maharaja of Travancore and the secretary of the state for India, for irrigation works by the Madras Presidency for a period of 999 years. The British left 60 years later, but Kerala continued to respect the deed.

Later in 1970, the lease rent was enhanced and revised to allow Tamil Nadu to generate electricity, as well. Today, it gets electricity worth Rs 300 crore almost free of cost from the project. Kerala never asked for anything, except fishing rights in the reservoir.
The same year, the state went on to sign a second inter-state river agreement , the Parambikulam Aliyar agreement where the state gifted away the rights of running three dams (Parambikulam, Tunakadavu and Peruvaripallam) to Tamil Nadu. It is a project linking three rivers — Periyar, Chalakudi and Bharathapuzha. There are ten dams under it and the water is used mainly for irrigation in Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.
The water is shared, but the control of the dam not being with the state does rankle the government now. The agreement was mediated by the Congress government at the Centre and was considered an example of brotherly sharing as much as a great Congress bear hug between the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu K Kamaraj and the then Kerala chief minister of Pattamthanu Pillai. Today, the Congress as well as Communist politicians in Kerala cannot do much about it, but regret.

Says Kerala water resources minister N K Premachandran, “In the previous Left government, Parambikulam was a big mistake and we are all regretting it today.”
In fact, a legislative committee in Kerala in the 70s expressed the popular sentiment when it said the state should never do another inter-state agreement.

However, the state went on to sign its third inter-state agreement for Siruvani Dam in 1973. It was unique (at least for Kerala) as it allowed Tamil Nadu to finance the construction while leaving, for once, the construction and operation of the dam to Kerala. The agreement allows supply of drinking water to Coimbatore municipality.

Former water resources minister of Kerala N K Premachandran admits the state blundered badly twice in signing agreements no states have ever signed before. It should help the state to be cautious in future, he says. Faced with tremors in the Idukki region, the Kerala government has been asking for lowering of the height of water stored in Mullaperiyar Dam, though both the river and the dam are within the state.

It wants to gradually transfer the water to a new quake-proof dam jointly operated by the two states. James Wilson, a member of the Mullaperiyar cell of the Kerala government, says it is easy to blame the past over control of dams. “Posterity may blame the present for agreeing to give any water to another state too, refusing to blame anyone for anything. The best thing is to talk and ensure all benefit and no one suffers,” he adds.

1 comment:

  1. Every body talks about the Water sharing agreement along with the leasing agreement between the then Maharaja of Travancore (who expressed his anguish by making a statement that he is signing the subject agreement with his blood)as he knew the consequences, unlike the great political leaders of the most literate state in India.
    But what was the exact nature of the water sharing agreement? Was it that the entire rainfall and the water collected in the reservoir belonged to Tamil Province for 999 Years? I am surprised to see that TN is now claiming full rights on the rainfall in Kerala which feeds the Mullaperiyar reservoir and in order to make sure that this designs are materialised asking to raise the subject Dam Level to 150feet or more!! Who cares whether this might eventually raise the water pressure in the dam and cause undue damage in case of a catastrophe? The compassion shown by Kerala in allowing TN to divert the flow in whatever possible way (including pumping out the water to other far off rivers and places) and regularising the breach of agreements by unilaterally diverting the water for Electricity Generation, is taken for granted and just as the proverb goes " you allow someone to sit on your schoulder and he takes it as his right to eat your ears"

    Jayamma, Your efforts to publically appeal through the national media speaks mostly half truths and there is more to what you tries to cover up than what you have stated.

    Thanks and regards,