A film, its ban in Tamil Nadu, and mild earthquake in Kerala's district have added fuel Mullaperiyar dam row
The controversy over a film 'Dam 999' has brought Mullaperiyar Dam back to the fore. A recent tremor in Idukki has triggered fears among residents of the district who feared that the dam would collapse.
The issue has been a bone of contention between the Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Although the dam is situated near the source of the Periyar river in Kerala, Tamil Nadu has been operating the dam, thanks to an agreement between the then Travancore government and Madras Presidency during the British for 999 years.
The Periyar National Park is located near the dam. The dam's purpose was to divert the waters of the west-flowing Periyar River eastwards, since it caused widespread floods in the Travancore region, by constructing a masonry dam and diverting the water from the reservoir by way of a tunnel across the watershed and the Western Ghats to the rain shadow region of the Theni Sivaganga District and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu.
About 60,000 ha in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, and Dindigul districts in present day Tamil Nadu were intended as beneficiaries of irrigation waters from Mullaperiyar. Water is brought through a 1.6 km long tunnel till the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border and then flows through open canals to Churuliyar river which feeds the Vaigai dam in Tamil Nadu. From there a network of canals take the water to the fields.
The dam's reservoir level is the main cause of worry for Kerala. Since 1970, Kerala has argued that the dam having outlived its life of 50 years is unsafe to maintain water at 46.3 metres - the full reservoir level - and it should be restricted to 41.45 metres.
In 1979, the Central Water Commission was asked to look into the matter; it suggested reduction of water level to 41.45 metres as an emergency measure along with other measures to strengthen the dam.
The government of Tamil Nadu has proposed an increase in the storage level of the dam from the currently maintained 136 feet to 142 feet. The Kerala government has opposed this move, citing safety concerns for the more than hundred year old bridge and especially for the thickly populated districts downstream.
In 1998, all Mullaperiyar-related cases were transferred to the Supreme Court which, in its order of February 2006, observed that the dispute is not a 'water dispute'. It allowed raising the reservoir level to 43.28 metres and directed Tamil Nadu to carry out the strengthening measures suggested by cwc, and restrained Kerala from causing any obstruction.
In March 2006, Kerala's Legislative Assembly passed the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Amendment Act, 2006. The amendment empowered Kerala's Dam Safety Authority (KDSA) - a body mandated in 2003 by the original Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act-to evaluate safety of all dams in the state. It also has the power to advise the government to suspend the functioning or to decommission a dam if public safety demanded. Twenty two dams constructed during 1895-1963 including the Mullaperiyar dam were brought under KDSA's jurisdiction. 41.45 metres was fixed as safe height for Mullaperiyar's reservoir. Tamil Nadu took the matter back to the Supreme Court. It filed a petition on March 31, 2006 to declare the Kerala act as unconstitutional.
In July 2009, the Kerala government has claimed that with the building of a new dam, 1,300 feet downstream of the present Mullaperiyar reservoir, the safety of the people of Kerala can be a assured from the existing high-risk structure, which can fail at any
time , endangering lives, according to news sources.
People in Kerala feel that the 1886 deed should not be continued since it was forced upon the Travancore ruler. People in Tamil Nadu feel that Kerala is eyeing extra water from the Mullaperiyar reservoir to generate electricity. Power generation at the Idukki reservoir, downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam will come to a halt if the reservoir level is increased from 41.45 metres to 46.3 metres, Sadasivan points out. The Kerala government, however, maintains that the Idukki project was designed after discounting the 46.3 metres water storage in the Mullaperiyar dam.