by K Vijayachandran

By Engr. K Vijayachandran FIE

Mulla Periyar, the more than a century old gravity dam in Kerala owned and operated by the neighboring state of Tamilnadu is once again live in the regional media. It is a ping-pong game, quarter century old and played by the media and opportunist politicians from both sides both sides. Its entertainment value had greatly come down with the last definitive verdict by Supreme Court, about an year ago, authorizing Tamilnadu to go up to 142 feet of reservoir level, six feet above the restrictions fixed by the court in 1979, pending a final decision.

Dispute was about the safety of the old gravity dam and not on any sort of riparian rights. Tamilnadu is quite within its legal and moral right to store the water in the reservoir up to 142 height which is supported by the best of professional opinion in India, globally respected for its dam related expertise. Kerala has lost the case legally, morally and politically. Its last weapon was a horror film DAM900 depicting the massive destruction of four Kerala districts with a population of over four million ion people.

Horror scenes with tens of thousands of bloated carcasses of humans and animals floating around the flood were acclaimed as great cinematic achievements. But hardly anybody, in Kerala, was interested in the movie and Tamilnadu had simply banned its exhibition: Film had proved beyond doubt the limitations of art in distorting facts and manipulating human minds. Opportunist politics and other vested interests have totally failed in instigating processions and satyagrhas, this time, despite attempts by small sections of the media. Some five hundred families staying on the downstream of Mulla Periyar were advised to move to safer places. But they were not convinced about the official logic.

There is the argument that even the best of predictions could go wrong some time and the preparations to deal with accidents may not work. They insist on unreasonably high safety factors. However, one of the suggestions now made by the Kerala side is worth considering: Why not limit the water level in Mulla Periyar to the minimum dictated on by the actual irrigation demands on the Tamilnadu side. Kerala has suggested that level in MP may be raised beyond 136 feet only after filling the Vaigai reservoir to the maximum limit, and only when it is absolutely necessary for the farmers.

This is break from the endless debates on safety, possibly a healthy development: by moving to a dialogue mode, lot of problems could be easily resolved. In fact, when and how much water was required by Tamilnadu farmers or the actual storage and water level requirements were never discussed or debated by the court or the media. Let us hope that that such discussions will take place, now: After all, dams and reservoirs are extremely flexible instruments and we are sure to discover plenty of solutions, as we play them.

Another equally interesting debate has now sprouted from the higher water levels of MP. This relates to the over 6400 acres of land that got re-submerged under water, after some three and a half decades. Reports are slowly coming in on the desirability of ecological and environmental changes these areas are now undergoing: Such issues, though not unexpected, were never discussed or debated within or outside the trial courts.

Earlier, there were also stray reports on illegal settlements, by businesses, tourism and religious establishments that had come up on the tracts of lands vacated by MP waters. We may hear about them more in the coming days.

19th Nov 2014