Giving Mullaperiyar waters on a platter Wednesday, Dec 21 2011 

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

Save Mullaperiyar, Save Kerala

Kerala government don’t want to win the Mullaperiyar case! Saturday, Dec 10 2011 

Poster announcing fast by S. Rajedran MLA at Vandiperiyar in Idukki district seeking resolution of the Mullaperiyar issue. The poster is in Tamil because a substantial part of population in and around Vandiperiyar is Tamil

Kerala government does not want to win the case filed by Tamil Nadu challenging the State’s dam safety legislation before the Supreme Court! This argument may appear strange; but that is what many in government wish.

If the Supreme Court upholds the legislation – the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, then the State will have all the powers to reduce the water level of Mullaperiyar reservoir, dismantle it or replace it with a new dam.  Politicians and officials here are acutely aware of the difficulties in using the power they will get in case of a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court, against the background of emotional opposition from Tamil Nadu.

This is why Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph is calling for speedy enactment of Dam Safety Bill proposed by the Centre. (The Centre has drawn up a Bill for this, but it has not been introduced in Parliament). If a Central Act is passed, it will supersede the State legislation (which is what Tamil Nadu also wants.  However, it has its own objections to the provisions of the the proposed Central legislation). When that happens, the State will lose all its powers to ensure safety of dams in the State. When the Centre enforces the Act, things are not likely to work in favaour of Kerala. (Note the reluctance of Centre to Act against Tamil Nadu, even to insist on its officials and Chief Minister to attend talks with Kerala). Many issues may also get close attention of proposed Central Dam Safety Authority.  However, Mr. Joseph is willing to sacrifice power, if Kerala government and the State  Dam Safety Authority could escape from a tedious task of taking control of a dam in its territory.

It is notable that the Authority had not even moved a finger to ensure safety of any dam in the State though it was established five years ago.  The Supreme Court has ordered status quo regarding water level in the Mullaperiyar dam, but no other powers of the Authority has been curtailed by the Supreme Court. It has not stayed any of the clauses of the Act. So, there is nothing that prevents the State Authority from issuing orders to the custodian of the dam (Tamil Nadu)  to take precautionary steps. (The dam falls within in its jurisdiction.)

For example, it could have ordered that all the seepage from Mullaperiyar should be collected and measured. As all the seepage is not getting collected in the galleries (which exist only on the concrete back up provided by Tamil Nadu as part of the strengthening measures),  it is necessary to have structures downstream to catch all the seepage. Seepage can give an indication of damage to the dam, especially from tremours if compared with earlier volumes.

Another direction that the Authority could have given is regarding increasing of the efficiency of existing spillways  for achieving marginally better safety from floods. A technical committee had recommended as back as in the nineties that the earth behind the spillways should be removed and a slope should be ensured to enable speedy discharge of water. It was only this year that the State government intervened and removed the earth and debris dumped behind the spillways. However, no slope is being ensured. The State government acted only after the water level rose to 136 feet. So, the bulldozers are now working practically in water.

Abject Failure of Kerala government on Mullaperiyar front Saturday, Dec 3 2011 


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

Bribing Idinthikarai– Dr. Kalam’s action plan for Kudankulam nuclear project Thursday, Nov 10 2011 

Koodankulam town

The Koodamkulam town with sizable population is within 1 km from outer walls of the nuclear complex

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s 10-point plan for development of Kudankulam and neighbouring areas is nothing short of an attempt to bribe the people who are on fast against the Kudankulam nuclear power project at Idinthikarai in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.

The proposal raises several questions.  Are developmental projects a substitute for safety?  What Mr. Kalam says is that the people of the Kanyakumari and neighbouring districts should accept local development so that the rich and the urbanites elsewhere can have the power from Kudankulam. The sacrifice that is being demanded is something that could affect generations of their offspring.

No nuclear plant has a history of not causing radiation exposure to at least some people in and around the plant. And we know that no human made structure and machinery including Dr. Kalam’s rockets carrying deadly missiles is immune to malfunctions, failures or accidents whatever be the technology employed.  Dr. Kalam knows that well. That is why he is talking about courage like army commanders who always know that a certain percentage of his soldiers sent to the battlefield would never return.  Better technology would only reduce chances of an accident and would not eliminate it. So, the question boils down to what is the acceptable level of risk.

Thousands would die and large areas of Kanyakumari and neighbouring districts would be devastated if a meltdown occurs at the nuclear plant. Thousands of acres of fertile land would remain uninhabitable for many years. There are still no accurate figures of long term casualties from the Chernobyl disaster. But we know that it would run into lakhs. That is too much of risk for just 2000 MW of power.

Related post:

Nuclear liability bill will get you a compensation of Rs. 1000

Also see: 

New Book Concludes – Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer

Kundankulam anti-nuclear movement

Endosulfan, a Kerala story Saturday, Apr 23 2011 

Endosulfan: the Kerala story

Cover of the book published by Kerala Government, Endosulfan: the Kerala story

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. Achuthanandan should be congratulated for offering fast on April 25 to press for ban on endosulfan. However, it only becomes penance for four years of inaction after he assumed office.

Despite the sympathies expressed for endosulfan campaign while he was the Opposition leader, Mr. Achuthanandan did hardly anything for the endosulfan victims for four years. He could not excuse himself that his party was in the way as this was one of the few issues on which the party was not at odds with him.

However, he scrambled back into action by the time the elections were around the corner. The Cabinet entrusted the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment with a quick assessment of the damage. However, the time available was very limited for a scientific study and the expert committee could not submit its report till now. It faced problems about sampling, testing and selection of control populations.

So, the all-party delegation went to Delhi without a scientifically prepared dossier but with a brochure on endosulfan to persuade the Centre to support an on endosulfan. The Centre took refuge on need for further studies though further studies are not really needed for the purpose of ban. There is ample evidence that endosulfan causes many diseases though it can be debated whether a particular case is caused by endosulfan. However, considering the known mechanisms of its causing diseases and known status of endosulfan persistent organic pollutant and one that can gravely affect the brain and reproductive systems, the precautionary principle applies. The principle has been upheld by courts in India, yet it has not been forcefully raised by the delegation.

The government claims to have provided much assistance to the victims in recent months. However, it did not match even non-governmental organisations like Solidarity (youth arm of Jama ate Islami) . However, it is to be acknowledged that it did provide considerable medical assistance though it did not reach all. Though it has announced Rs. 2000 a month each to the victims in this year’s budget, the job of distributing it actually falls on the next government.  Even the Rs. 300 a month announced for by-standers are yet to reach many affected families. There are complaints that the survey done by the government to identify victims were not exhaustive even while it allowed some people affected by non-endosulfan related diseases to get into the list.

Though the problem in Kasaragod was known to governments for two decades, they had done nothing to decontaminate the area, supply pure drinking water or promote replacement of food crops with cash crops as food crops in the area also carried endosulfan residues according to some studies.

It is known that the officials of the Plantation Corporation of Kerala violated several laws in spraying endosulfan over large areas with little precautions. Though the Chief Minister promised action against them six months ago, no steps had actually been taken. A police investigation would be needed to find out whether they have also dumped stocks in pits and covered them up.  If the Corporation and its officials are allowed to go scot free, tragedies like that in Kasaragod would recur. In fact, it is already happening in Idukki district and elsewhere as motorised pumps are used to spray deadly pesticides.

Endosulfan: Core issues remain unattended Tuesday, Dec 21 2010 

A child suspected to be victim of endosulfan (photo courtesy

The debate is intensifying on the endosulfan issue. The issue is now getting full media attention in Kerala.  And for the first time, coverage has surpassed issues such as Plachimada which dwarfs into insignificance when one examines the havoc wrecked by endosulfan in Kasaragod district of Kerala and northern areas of Karnataka. People have been affected by endosulfan in Palakkad and Idukki districts also, though they are yet to be documented.

The Union Minister of State for Agriculture K. V. Thomas’s attempt to speak for the endosulfan lobby has boomeranged on him. The issue snowballed with Mr. Thomas’s speech in the heart of Kasaragod district.

To retain its ground and to pre-empt the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests, the Union Agriculture Ministry announced a new committee to study the issue. C. D. Mayee, who headed an earlier committee that declared that no link had been established between endosulfan and the health problems of people in 11 panchayats of Kasaragod district, was suitably chosen to head the committee. The outcome is predictable, but this time around, public criticism is not going to be doused by its report.

Succor to endosulfan victims was something promised by V. S. Achuthanandan when he was the Opposition. His slow-acting government has taken years to get into action to reach any significant assistance to the victims. (Non-governmental organisations did better than the government.). Now, he has convened a review meeting and made some announcements. But the government is likely to demit office with a half completed study by the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment and credit for providing marginal assistance to the victims.

Core issues like compensation to the victims remain unattended by successive governments. Even the Human Rights Commission is forgetting about fundamental rights to safe drinking water and food when it talks of health facilities alone.

Update (22/12/2010): The Centre has decided to drop Mayee from the committee and decided to appoint a committee headed by a health department official. No package for victims or national  ban on the pesticide before the committee submits its report.

Political strategy to partition Munnar Sunday, Aug 8 2010 


Munnar - a birds-eye view

Politicians in Idukki have mooted a dual strategy to corner land in Munnar. They want to share Munnar town with traders. They have also earmarked part of the forest lands for apportioning among themselves. So, they oppose notification of 17922 acres of forests in the Kannan Devan Village as reserve forests.

The Munnar Ordinance was proposed to take over 1073.5 acres of leased land in and around the town from the KDH Plantation Company for development as a tourism centre. The plan is actually to issue titles to traders and others. It is not likely that anything in the form of planned development of Munnar would materialise during the tenure of the present government. Owing to legal hurdles, Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has withheld reissue of the Ordinance.

Though the Central team and the Committee of Secretaries deputed by the State government has found that there were no encroachments on 17922 acres of land in possession of the Forest Department, the government is yet to notify the land. Forest Minister Benoy Viswam, who proposed the notification, faced Opposition in the Cabinet on the ground that there were settlers on the land and that some land would be needed for development and issue of titles to poor.

Now that the Central team has found that the land in question is forests without any encroachment, the Minister again pushed the proposal to notify the land. However, the LDF wanted it to be discussed in its State committee. From the State committee, it has been referred to the Idukki district committee. The views and plans of the district committee in the matter are already known. If the government went with the district committee, nothing other than further alienation of government lands would happen.

Nuclear liability bill will get you a compensation of Rs. 1000 Monday, Jun 21 2010 

Koodankulam town

The Kudankulam town, with a sizable population and economic activity, is within one km from outer walls of the nuclear complex in Kanyakumari district

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Claims Bill will put you in a worse situation than the victims of Bhopal in case of a nuclear accident. The consequence of a nuclear accident would be much worse and long-lasting than the Bhopal tragedy. We are not going into the long-term effects of radiation here and the deaths that it can cause, but just attempting to calculate the compensation that the victims would get.

Let us take the example of the Kudankulam (Koodankulam) nuclear power plant, coming up at Kudankulam in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. Of course, it is in the public sector and we are taking it only as a reference. It uses Russian reactors imported under Indo-Russian agreement. Its safety features are claimed to be better than that of the ill-fated reactor at Chernobyl.

The accident at Chernobyl led to the declaration of an area, 30 km in radius (area of 2827 sq. km) as no entry zone owing to radiation. So, in the event of an accident of similar dimensions, much of the Kanyakumari district (1672 sq. km) would have to be abandoned. (Part of the area falling within 30 km radius is sea.). However, in the event of a major catastrophe, the area affected could extend up to  70000 sq. km. (about 150 km in radius)

This will mean that besides Kanyakumari district, much of the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala would be affected. These districts have a population totaling 80 lakhs. Let us assume that about 50 lakh people are affected. Then, the compensation payable by the company concerned under the Act will be just Rs. 1000 per head, on an average, since the maximum liability of the company is fixed as Rs. 500 crores. This is what you will get after abandoning your homes and land.

The compensation will vary depending on the population affected and the severity of the accident.  However, it can be seen that the population at risk would be similar for most parts of India in the case of worst possible nuclear accident. The population density is high around Koodankulam. However, much of the area where radiation fall-out could occur is covered by sea. In areas where population density is lower (off the coast), this advantage will not be there.  So, most Indians under the law would be eligible for a compensation of a few thousands rupees.  Under Indian conditions, the bribe that you have to pay officials to claim this damage would exceed the amount.  So, Indians cannot have any hope of getting any compensation under the proposed Bill.

Provision for damage under the U. S. law is more than 100 times that provided in the Indian Bill. However, even that is a paltry sum. So, it is time that we think whether we should have the Bill and the nuclear plants.

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