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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SC Committee says Mullaperiyar dam is seismically safe

It is all about water – which has flamed the States to become warring factions and placed at Parliament and doorsteps of Apex Court.  In a land fuelled by perceived notions, a movie Dam 999 further fuelled the hysteria. Away from Politics, Cinema and IPL – these issues rock the State and one can stir a hornet’s nest by touching on them – they are the ‘issue of Srilankan tamils’ (of which many would talk trying to exhibit great concern but do little); Cauvery river sharing and then this………….  – another river issue, it  originates from the Sivagiri peaks (1800m MSL) of Sundaramala in Tamil Nadu; runs a  total length of about 244 Kms, flows northwards for 48 kms and at Thekkady joins the west-flowing Mullayar – it is the river Periyar on which the dam constructed is a bone of contention – the Mullaperiyar dam.  

The Mullaperiyar Dam is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River, located 881 m (2,890 ft) above mean sea level on the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats in Thekkady, Idukki District of Kerala.  It was constructed between 1887 and 1895 by the British Government to divert water eastwards to Madras Presidency area (the present-day Tamil Nadu).   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.   The water from this dam irrigates about 80000 hectares of parched lands and provides drinking water to the people of Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram.  The dam is one of the oldest dams in service in the world, at 105 years.    It has not remained as it was built.  In 1930s, Tamil Nadu engineers bored 80 holes in the dam and injected 40 tonne of cement solution; few years  later, grouting technology was used to strengthen the dam; again tones of cement solution was injected decades later.

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.  This despite the fact that  experts from Indian Institute of Technology  examined the dam, and mentioned that the dam will not withstand an earthquake.  The Kerala Govt contends that  if 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.  If Mullaperiyar is no longer there, many districts in Tamilnadu will face draughts.  With Kerala seeking to build new dam, TN brought the water level down from 152ft to 132ft to allay the fears.

It is becoming a disturbing trend that parties to disputes often do not accept the decision of arbitrators and Judicial bodies.  The report by the Supreme Court appointed five member monitoring committee has said the 119-year-old Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala is safe vindicating the stand taken by Tamil Nadu.  The copies of the report, which was handed over to the Supreme Court on 25 April, were given to the concerned states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala recently.  The committee was headed by retired Chief Justice of India AS Anand.  It is stated that the report mentions that that the present structure is seismically safe. This was a committee set up by Apex Court in Feb 2010 to go into all aspects of the dam including safety. The committee made several visits to the dam site and conducted tests and studies through various agencies.  As tensions rose between the two states in December last year, a two-member technical team of the Empowered Committee visited the site and is understood to have concluded that recent tremors in that region did not have any impact on the Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams and that they were safe.

One would logically expect the instruction of the Apex Court to prevail but politics that too regional flavour is a different cup of tea.  It appears that two  Kerala ministers, PJ Joseph and KM Mani, will not believe anybody but themselves on the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam and seem to be extremely sure of their knowledge on the issue, its engineering and the scientific studies commissioned by the state government.  There are people like them who speak that the report is one-sided and favours Tamil Nadu and the state should push ahead with a new dam although the issue is still pending in the Supreme Court and supporting the Kerala Congress ministers is the opportunistic opposition.  As Firstpost reports, if the Supreme Court thought that an expert committee, headed by former Chief Justice AS Anand, competent technical experts and members of the two states would be an impartial and scientific approach to settle the nagging issue legally; the aftermath of the report shows that politics doesn’t see reason or science.

The dam issue has already stoked passions and  created a lot of bad blood between the people of the neighbouring states, which even led to attacks, counter-attacks and an economic blockade.  As of now, Tamil Nadu, has not hadany major comments except a sense of vindication.  It is one of the  most sensitive political issue that pits people and politicians in Kerala and Tamil Nadu against each other. In two months, the Supreme Court will take a call on the issue after examining the report and hearing the arguments of both the states. Kerala can make all its arguments in the court and try to win its case.  Kerala want a decision that dam is unsafe and if that were to be decreed would immediately press for its implementation but if the Court were to say that it is absolutely safe, would not accept the verdict and fight it out politically.   The fact that the water from the dam had converted a famine-prone barren land in at least five southern districts of Tamil Nadu into a flourishing agricultural belt should not be overlooked.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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