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I strongly believe that none in Tamil Nadu (or any other place) wants innocent people to die because of the Mullaiperiyar Dam. They would extend their full support to the cause of properly demolishing the weakened dams with full safety if it is proved beyond evidence that it is indeed weak.
I strongly accept that 999 year contract is illogical given the complexity of the contract, even though Kerala govt happily renewed it once again in 1970. So I was probing through the facts to know the Tamil Nadu’s side of story for protest against the construction of new dam in Kerala.
A friend of mine forwarded a video link to a documentary created by PWD (Public Works Department) of Tamil Nadu a year ago.
The documentary is a very good account of both historical and in-depth scientific facts about the dam and its issues. But it’s a bit lengthy and in Tamil without subtitles. So in this blog, first I would like to mention some key points from the documentary and then I would also like to present my views about the issue at the end.
Key Notes from the Documentary:
1. Tamil Nadu (TN) is getting water for irrigation of around 2,08,000 acres from Mullaperiyar (MP) dam. The water resource is being used in four districts in TN. It produces around 400 Cr value of food and provides life support to 1 million farmers. This water is used as drinking water for 6 million peoples in TN.
2. In 1956, based on an agreement exchanged between the two Governments, Tamil Nadu was allowed to produce electricity using forebay dam in lower stream, its capacity is 175 MW. Kerala Government was allowed to do fishing in the dam water.
3. Till 1979, which is 85 years after the dam construction, there were no issues raised about the dam. On 16.10.1979, following a minor earthquake in the MP region , Malayala Manorama (newspaper) reported about the possible danger that the weak dam can cause to the people living around that area.This article created quite a flatter at that time.
4. The dam was inspected by a group of experts and it was reported to be safe. But they suggested to take some steps to strengthen the dam. Following the report and based on talks between two states in Thiruvanathapuram, three stage process to strengthen the MP Dam was proposed. In order to carry out this process, the water level of the dam was reduced from 152 feet to 136 temporarily to reduce pressure of the water. Different technical methods like Capping, cable strengthening was done to strengthen the MP Dam.
5. Near to the MP Dam there is small dam called Baby dam, which will get water only when MP Dam’s water level reaches 112 feet. So that is when MP Dam is having 152 feet water in its belly, Baby dam will have only 40 feet of water. TN Govt decided to strengthen this dam also for safety. But Kerala forest department stopped TN engineers from working on the strengthening process of the baby dam (Documentary states that the Kerala Forest Department slapped some false legal cases against the TN Engineers). if it would have been finished, Kerala Govt couldn’t have raised any issues about the dam. So in 1994, they stopped TN govt to raise the water back to 152 feet.
6. Both the Governments went to the Supreme Court of India for the issue. From 2000 to 2006, Supreme court conducted various studies and gave its Judgment as below.
“We permit state of Tamil Nadu to carry out further strengthening measures as suggested by CWC and hope that state of Kerala would cooperate in the matter. The State of Kerala and its officers are restrained from causing any obstruction”.
And the TN Govt was allowed to raise water from 136 to 142 feet.
7. So immediately Kerala govt added an amendment to its 2003 “Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation” as below
“ No civil court shall have jurisdiction to settle, decide or deal with any question of fact or to determine any matter which is by or under this Act required to be settled, decided or dealt with or to be determined by the authority under this Act. ”
It says only Kerala Govt have the authority to determine the water capacity of its 22 dams. (Guess what MP Dam is first in the list. And the maximum allowed height for MP Dam is 136 ft.)
8. The issue of 999 year agreement: The agreement between Madras State and Travancore kingdom for 999 is not for a Dam but it is for the land which are covered by water if the water level is raised to 155 feet. The exert from agreement is given below:
“All that tract of land part of the Territory of Travancore situated on or near the Periaur River bounded on all sides by a Contour line one hundred and fifty five fez
et above the deepest point of the bed of the said Periaur River at the site of the dam to be constructed there and shown in the map….”
It means that the 999 year agreement is not for a MP dam, and it is for the area covered by water when the dam level is 155 feet.
9. Further the documentary claims that the dam structures can be strengthened and its age can be increased by proper maintenance. The best example for this claim is the “Grand Anicut” ( Kallanai ) dam on river Kaveri in TN which is constructed in BC 200 is functioning for more than 1500 years. There are lots of other examples for 2000 years old functioning dam like The Roman dam at Cornalvo in Spain.
10. Kerala Govt claims, if rain starts, within three days the water capacity will increase to 16 TMC, so it will demolish the dam. It means, to fill dam in three days, it requires 63,000 cusecs water to flow, at the same time the water out vent (total thirteen including three new vent outlets) capacity is 1,20,000 cusecs so this claim also disproved.
Role of Idukki Dam:
Keral’s Idukki hydro generator plan: Idukki dam was constructed on 1975. It’s India’s largest hydro-power plant with 555 feet height and has a capacity of 70 TMC (MP dam has a capacity of 15TMC). The installed power house capacity is 780 MW with 6 generator units of 180 MW each. But even after three years of commissioning the Moolamatton power project (idukki dam power project), it didn’t manage to generate the expected power. That is when the problem of MP dam started 1979. Even today it is generating only 280 Mu power. Link
Water flow map from MP dam to Idukki dam:
11. On a worst case scenario, even if the dam breaks (nobody wants it), the Idukki dam can easily accommodate the 15 TMC water. Even if it is full at the time, the water takes four hours from Mullaiperiyar dam (MP) to travel 45 km to reach Idukki dam. The water venting capacity of Idukki dam is 4 Lakh cusecs feet/ second, I hope my educated friends can easily calculate how much time it will take to empty 15 TMC water or more to give space. The land height difference of idukki dam and MP dam is 856 feet, it means lot of water flow downwards, (it won’t go to any village or city to reach idukki, )since water flows from top to bottom.
12. So even if the water flows in 100 feet height from MP to Idukki, there wont be any causalities for the 4.5 million people living in the downstream.
13. Kerala Govt wants to construct a new dam because for the past thirty years after reducing the water level to 136 feet, Idukki project is not able to produce the expected electricity generation. (the details already provided before)
14. Now coming to the point, where Kerala Govt says they will provide water to TN, the sketch of proposed new dam below
The proposed (new) dam height is 52.13 meter but the water vent will be opened when water reaches 148 to 149 feet. So given the geographical conditions, Tamil Nadu can take the water which is above 154 feet in new proposed dam, which will never occur. The documentary claims that the very aim of the new dam seems to divert the water to idukki dam, also to construct the hydro-electric generation plant in new proposed dam. It means taking water for 24* 365 for electricity generation. So even if Kerala Govt want to give water to TN, there wont be any sufficient water in the proposed Dam.
Kerals’s direct benefit because of MP dam
Kerala and Tamil Nadu are mutually dependent on each other. 70% of Kerala’s border is TN, 12 highways are connecting TN and Kerala which is used to carry food and all essential items for Kerala. Other than this, even though Kerala has 44 riverbeds to take sand, previous CM of Kerala state banned taking sand from those riverbeds, so for Kerala state’s all Government and private building construction they take sand from TN. So considering all this, Kerala should understand that TN’s growth is directly related to their own.
Kerala water resource minister Mr P.J.Joseph is demanding to destroy the baby dam, reduce the water level to 96 feet and to demolish the upper part of dam till the construction of new dam. This process will take a minimum of 4 years but we know that our Government will take more than that.
Based on the water storage sketch (above), you can see that water below the height of 104 feet cannot be used by TN, so reducing the water level in dam to 96 feet means no water for TN. It will cause famine in TN and will impact Kerala also.
I strongly believe that the people lives are more important and should be given first priority than a water dispute for agriculture or the dam itself. So considering this sensitive issue, both the Governments should discuss and come to a good conclusion by talking rather than playing with people’s emotions and for some personal political gains on each side.
These are all my findings about MP dam. Not my final stand, I welcome healthy discussion in this post.