Monday, December 26, 2011

Kerala officials stay away from experts’ visit to dam

Idukki: Adding a new dimension to the raging Mullaperiyar reservoir row, Kerala officials Saturday stayed away from the visit of the Supreme Court-appointed empowered committee experts alleging that they had declined to properly hear the state's views on the dam's safety aspects.

The development comes against the backdrop of heightened sparring between leaders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in recent weeks over building a new dam in place of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar reservoir.

The Kerala team, comprising the state Mullaperiyar Cell Chairman M K P Nair, senior engineers and officials decided against joining the panel technical members, alleging they did not give due attention to their briefings, mostly concerning the safety of the dam, official sources said.

The two technical members on the panel - CD Thatte and DK Mehta - who began their inspection tour of dams in Idukki district Friday, visited the Mullaperiyar reservoir Saturday.

Official sources said there were also differences over the spot to be chosen for non-destructive sonic tests to be carried out on the dam to ascertain its strength.

The Empowered Committee under the Chairmanship of former Chief Justice of India A S Anand was set up in 2010 with the mandate of examining all aspects of the dispute over the dam between the two states.

Kerala wants a new dam to be built saying the existing structure was extremely weak and would put the lives of over three million people living downstream in danger in the event of a collapse.

However,Tamil Nadu has rejected this contention holding that the dam was as safe as a new one.

The apex court constituted the panel, which has one member each representing Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while considering Tamil Nadu's plea against the Dam Safety Authority bill passed by the Kerala Assembly, which empowered the state agency to decommission any dam in the state.

The Mullaperiyar dam is located in Kerala's Idukki district but managed under a 999-yearlease by Tamil Nadu whose five districts are fed by its waters for irrigation.

M K P Nair, a former chief engineer who has been heading the state Mullaperiyar cell for quite some time, told reporters later that a technical member did not even allow Kerala Chief Secretary (Irrigation) P Lathika to explain the state's views regarding the dam.

"This we felt quite badly," he said. It was quite natural on the part of two sides to present their views when the dispute involves two states, he added.

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