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.

Achuthanandan is still the Opposition Leader Sunday, Mar 1 2009 

V. S. Achuthanandan

V. S. Achuthanandan

It may not surprise many who know Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan closely that he finally decided to attend the valedictory of the Nava Kerala Yatra. His keeping away from the function against the party line would have been untenable in a party such as the CPI (M). Mr. Achuthanandan knows this well, and he does not have the wherewithal to quit the party. He takes unassailable stands against corruption and other issues and reneges on them to keep his position.

It is to be noted that many of his ideals or agenda, other than those relating to communism and his politics, do not come from deep-routed convictions. Many are ideas and agenda thrust upon him, by his well-wishes and those who were (once) close to him, to project his image. So, it is not surprising that he changes his colours when it becomes a question of survival.

Environmental activism
For example, he was a leader who used to speak against environmentalism and environmentalists before he became the Opposition Leader. His fight against the filling up of paddy fields was just an old communist style agitation of encroaching into others properties and slashing down standing crops over labour issues. However, his aides managed to give it the character of a struggle to conserve the environment. Soon, he turned into crusader for environmental causes. It was easy for those who were close to him to “convince him” to take up such fights for he was very amenable to persuasion. But his “convictions” vanish in adversity. Thus, his fight against the land mafia and those destroyed the environment at Munnar turned into a project for giving away forest lands. He had no hesitation in dropping those who aided him.

Water issues
He had become a crusader to protect Kerala’s interests in water agreement with Tamil Nadu under the influence of a journalist. However, one of his first actions after becoming the Chief Minister was to make moves to give away waters of Neyyar in a platter to Tamil Nadu. (He was apparently under pressure from the Central and Tamil Nadu leadership of his party. Besides, the LDF wanted PDP leader Abdul Nasir Maudhani to be released from jail in Tamil Nadu.)

He did pretty little to carry forward his campaign against illegal lotteries, encroachment at Kovalam and the like though he had been given the image of a crusader by his supporters. A Central government agency gave a certification to the hospital against whom he had campaigned over a kidney racket. He did not wink an eye when that happened. Kerala’s stand continued to be same as that stated by UDF Government on endosulfan– there is no conclusive proof that endosulfan caused the tragedy in Kasargod district.

His pro-women campaign ended with posting a few women officer at top posts, with no impact on any sphere. He looks on as the government turns away from use of open source software. (He knew nothing on the subject and he adopted the cause just because it had the trappings of a fight against neocolonialism.) In fact, he has compromised on all the major issues he had taken up as Opposition Leader.

Tailpiece: Achuthandan has once again given a tit for tat to Pinarayi Vijayan– this time in response to Pinarayi’s for his narration of the Urdu story about sea and its waves. Well, the Chief Minister is still being the Opposition Leader. As Chief Minister, he should be acting instead of speaking out.

Mullapperiyar dam– a powder keg Tuesday, Oct 30 2007 

Mullapperiyar dam in Idukki district of Kerala

Mullapperiyar dam in Kerala remains a powder keg. It would surprise many that a 112-year-old dam, built with lime surkhi mortar, is still in service. In the United States, for example, decommissioning would be considered when a concrete dam is 50 to 60 years old.

t may also sound inexplicable that Tamil Nadu, which is the beneficiary of the dam, had been able to win a case in the Supreme Court of India against keeping he water level low. The water level had been lowered from full reservoir level of 152 feet from the base of the dam to 136 feet when the dam showed signs of trouble back in 1979. Though repair works had been carried out, the safety of the structure remained in doubt and led to the dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu before the Court.

Again, to the surprise of many, the Court observed that even if the dam failed, the waters would be contained in the Idukki reservoir down stream. Apparently, the Court had not been told about the thousands of people living between the Mullapperiyar and Idukki dams and catastrophic character of a dam failure. Kerala had always been fighting its cases against Tamil Nadu disastrously.

The only solace is that the authorities have now set up control rooms to watch the situation as water level has reached 136 feet. (But the control rooms and disaster management set-ups will be little help in the case of a dam failure). Tamil Nadu is also making moves to increase the water level by lowering the spillway shutters, despite the favourable court order. It also has realised that it would not be safe to test the dam. Meanwhile, the risk to the downstream population keeps on increasing.

Relevant links:
Mullaperiyar, Idukki dams facing risk

Mullapperiyar: Issues of dam safety

Is MullaPeriyar Safe?
A dam failure will be an economic disaster for both Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Politics is the art of the possible or the lion that roared once Friday, Oct 26 2007 

The lion that roared once

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan was one of the strident voices against Kerala getting a raw deal in its water agreements with Tamil Nadu. That was when he was the Opposition Leader.Politics is the art of the possible. When he became Chief Minister one of his first moves was to get the Assembly pass a resolution permitting release of water from the Neyyar project to Tamil Nadu. He was reportedly under pressure from the CPI (M) politburo, which wanted to curry favour with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Karunanidhi.

Now, Mr. Achuthanandan is proceeding to ink an agreement with Tamil Nadu that would force Kerala to supply water from Neyyar dam to Tamil Nadu for years to come. There would be no quid pro quo. Kerala is not even raising the demand that the Parambikulam Aliyar inter-State river water agreement, which was due for revision for more than 35 years, should be the first priority. Nor, is there any talk on Mullapperiyar. All the noise made by Mr. Achuthanandan as Opposition Leader is forgotten.

The move also comes at a time Neyyar is becoming an aged dam needing repairs. But Mr. Achuthanandan is not even saying that adequate price would be collected for the water from Tamil Nadu. Won’t Tamil Nadu raise a hue and cry and file a number of cases if the water level is to be brought down on account of the poor condition of the dam?