Vandiperiyar town of Idukki district which will be washed away in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam

The developments on the Mullaperiyar front points to abject failure of the State and Central governments. The Central government could not even make the Tamil Nadu officials to come to Delhi.  Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa refused even to take the telephone call from Prime Minister. This is the cost the Centre government is paying for yielding to political blackmail of Tamil Nadu politicians in the past. Now that Karunanidhi is antagonised over CBI enquires against his party leaders, the Centre could not afford to say a hard word against Jayalalithaa.

The Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s Delhi mission was a total failure against this background despite the supported reportedly given by Defence Minister A. K. Antony. Though he put a brave face, he dispatched Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph to examine the possibility of approaching the Supreme Court.  Mr. Joseph had earlier returned after giving an undertaking to the Centre that Kerala would ask for any share in waters of Mullaperiyar. (Tamil Nadu thus got an undertaking without even moving a finger. Kerala should have assured water to Tamil Nadu only after dragging it to the negotiation table.)

This was a case that Kerala could have won in the first instance in the Supreme Court. All it needed to have done was to invoke the precautionary principle and present the risk profile with support of studies and dam break analysis and inundation studies.  However, despite it getting more than a decade, the government has only ordered the study.

The consequence was that the Supreme Court in the first case concurred with the argument of Tamil Nadu that water from Mullaperiyar would be contained in the Idukki reservoir in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam. This argument was not only technically incorrect, but also ignored the impact on the populated area between Mullaperiyar and Idukki. About 75000 people live there, but Kerala had failed to point that out to the Court.

The Government is against failing to state facts before the High Court. The Advocate General made amateurish observations on water level, safety and media coverage when the whole State is seized of the matter. It points to lack of coordination and ineptness of various departments. The Advocate General was making remarks on the basis of shallow observations by the Revenue and Disaster Management Department.  There was neither a collective approach nor organised presentation of case. This is why the Advocate General was refusing to heed the demand for his resignation. He did not divert much from what the government had presented before him.  This would be confirmed if the government fails to oust him. No client will keep a counsel if he had made observations against his brief.

A dam failure will not follow the mathematics of TN, the Advocate General or the Supreme Court. It will be catastrophic.  The dam completely gives way; it will be a column of water, more than 100 feet high, that will be flowing down.  Even when it reached Idukki reservoir, it will be more than 15 feet high. The torrent will bring down a lot of rocks and earth and will silt up the reservoir, raising the possibility of overtopping of the dam even when the water level of Idukki reservoir is low. Moreover floating trunks of trees and debris would hit the dams of Idukki with possibility of damage to the dram structure and spillways. So, Idukki would be at risk whatever the time of collapse of Mullaperiyar dam be.  If it is in summer, the scale of disaster would be lower, but it would make no difference for those on the path of the flow of water.

The authorities are actually misleading people by talking of plans to evacuate 450 families. This is a plan for evacuating people in case of an overflow of up to six feet through the spillways of Mullaperiyar dam. If one is to take precautions against a dam failure, about 2500 people would have to be evacuated from Vallakkadavu alone. The magnitude of disaster management in case of dam failure is something beyond the capabilities of the State government.

Related links:

Mullaperiyar– in search of truth (about precautionary principle)

Dam Safety: Mullaperiyar and its implications