Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dam that divides: Kerala and Tamil Nadu spar again over Mullaperiyar

Article by M G Radhakrishnan

Thiruvananthapuram, October 22, 2009

The century-old Mullapperiyar dam across Periyar river on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border has once again brought the two states to blows. The latest round in the decades-long differences between the two states over the issue has been triggered by the permission given by Union Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh to Kerala to conduct a survey for constructing a new dam in the Periyar Tiger Reserve here.

Kerala has for long been demanding the dismantling of the old dam for safety reasons. But Tamil Nadu has opposed this saying dismantling of the existing dam would lead to denial of waters for its farmers living in three neighbouring districts.

The Supreme Court has on Wednesday rejected Tamil Nadu's request pleading for a status quo or a stay the proposed survey to build a new dam observing that the state's apprehensions were premature. The three judge bench said the conduct of survey would not immediately lead to construction of a new dam. "The survey may be fruitful or not.

Kerala would also need central permission to construct a new dam said the court. The existing dam was constructed more than a century ago with the specific objective to make water available for the farmers of the three water-starved districts of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunandhi has accused Kerala of showing total disregard for judicial decisions and facts by going ahead with the proposal for a new dam. Tamil Nadu's Opposition leader J Jayalalitha has lent a touch of drama and said, "Kerala's move to construct a new dam is comparable to China's attempt to build a dam across Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh."

Kerala's Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan has retaliated saying it is the competitive politics in Tamil Nadu which makes its leaders turn blind to the dam's huge safety risk.

Karunanidhi has said that Kerala's fears over the safety are exaggerated and rejected by the Supreme Court. "The apex court passed an order to raise the dam's water level from the existing 136 feet to 142 feet. But Kerala responded by enacting a legislation aimed at non-implementation of this order. Kerala government led by a national party of high tradition should introspect about this disregard for judiciary and Constitution."

Kerala has long felt that the old dam affords immense risk to the people living in its four adjoining districts. Various studies by Kerala's government agencies have confirmed these fears although the Supreme Court is yet to be convinced. Kerala's request for dismantling the dam and building a new one is pending before the apex court.

Kerala's Irrigation Minister N K Premachandran has said Tamil Nadu's fears that it would be denied waters if a new dam would be constructed were unfounded. "IN fact more water would be available with the construction of the new dam. And there will be no reduction in the waters being given now to Tamil Nadu" said he.

Tamil Nadu's Pattali Makkal Kuchi's (PDP) supremo Dr S Ramadoss has charged that "Kerala rules India" with its "undue clout at the centre exercised through its array of civil servants belonging to the state". According to him it is on account of this Kerala "manages to go ahead against Tamil Nadu's interests on Mullaperiyar issue". He has said one third (19 out of 53) of secretary-level officers in central secretariat are from kerala including top honchos like TKA Nair, special secretary to the Prime Minister, Christy Fernandez, Secretary to President, M K Narayanan, National security Advisor, K M Chandrasekhar, Cabinet secretary , Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary etc.

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