Dams are not for ever: 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala

Kerala is offering waters of Mullaperiyar to Tamil Nadu in a platter. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has reportedly promised Tamil Nadu Minister Paneer Selvam that Kerala Assembly would pass a resolution to grant waters of Mullaperiyar to Tamil Nadu. Kerala has already assured the Centre that it would provide water without even the pre-condition that Tamil Nadu should reduce the water level of existing dam to 120 feet for the safety of people of Kerala.

Since Tamil Nadu is not agreeing to construction of a new dam below the existing Mullaperiyar dam for whatever reasons, it is high time that Kerala abandoned the proposal. Instead, it should insist on gradual lowering of the water level to ensure safety, taking Tamil Nadu’s refusal to accept the new dam proposal as an opportunity. Alternate intake structures could be considered at lower levels, if feasible, to allow Tamil Nadu to draw water at current levels or reduced levels. Eventually, Mullaperiyar dam should be reduced to a diversion structure.  It might be possible for Tamil Nadu to draw water for an indefinite period though that may not be at the current levels.  The engineering aspects of this should be studied in detail and alternative to new dam should be drawn up.

There is no reason why Kerala should continue to accept a ‘primitive’ agreement signed between erstwhile princely State of Travancore and the British. It was, in fact, an annexation of territory of Travancore as the agreement provides for diversion of all waters falling on 8000 acres. It was an international agreement. And it is at odds with current international law that recognises lower riparian rights. It ignored the ecological impact of total diversion of a river into another basin (Vaigai basin of Tamil Nadu) as those who signed the agreement were never aware of such an impact. The government should realise the eventual need to decommission several dams in Idukki district towards eco-restoration.

Hundreds of dams have been decommissioned in the United States and are not being rebuilt. Similar trend is happening in Europe also. Kerala need not try to buck the trend by building a new dam to replace the 116-year-old dam.

Related linkAny dam has a life

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