The Mullaiperiyar Dispute : Actual intentions and Solutions (Part 4)
A huge trust deficit has developed between the two states over the course of decades vis a vis the Mullaiperiyar dam dispute. This has been accentuated by the allegations and counter-allegations traded across the borders in the recent times. The trust deficit has paved way for further questions being raised on the real intentions behind some of the rabble rousing and allegedly motivated actions on either side. The following is a review of such accusations and attributed political motivations:
Water supply for Hydro-electric projects
While Tamil Nadu believes all the recent reactions have to do with getting over-all control over the dam so as to ensure the Idukki HEP is supplied with enough water for power-generation. On the other hand, Kerala appears to believe that Tamil Nadu refuses to address Kerala’s concerns because of its interest in retaining Mullaiperiyar waters for its own hydel power supply
Tamil Nadu side further alleges that Kerala politician’s real opposition to increasing storage level is the fear of submergence of numerous resorts that have come up in these 30 years.
Tamil Nadu argues that statements of multiple earthquakes (24 tremors in the last 3-4 months) from Kerala’s leaders are grossly exaggerated and have helped in whipping up a fear psychosis and panic.
Tamil Nadu further argues that only FOUR tremors ( 2 in July & 2 in November) have been reported by the Indian Meteorological Department. The only other tremor reported from the south was from Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu. No tremors have been felt at the dam and no cracks have developed because of these alleged tremors.
Timing political manoeuvres to pressure judiciary?
On November 22nd Kerala had appealed against the rejection of the IIT Roorkee report by the SC appointed empowered committee. Have politicians been whipping up passions to pressure the judiciary or the empowered committee that will hear the case?
The further argument has been that government officials and ministers of Kerala have been systematically participating and promoting documentaries predicting the ‘imminent’ fall of the dam. A 2006 documentary based on a fear mongering book that predicted 35 lakh causalities featured the state Revenue Minister. Another such documentary was inaugurated by the CM and the Water Resources Minister. This was followed by another documentary and a film called Dam99 finally.
The arguments further go that graphic images of dam break, cities and towns being washed away have been propagated through internet medium and with active connivance of print and electronic media.
This created a mass fear psychosis in the minds of people. The doomsday scenario went to extent of portraying giant tsunami waves about 25-30 feet high with malls and multi storied buildings collapsing as far as Kochi.
If this was not enough they show the whole of central Kerala submerges in Arabian Sea and Tamil Nadu getting a brand new coast on its western boundary. Even the mighty Western Ghats on Tamil Nadu border submerge into the waters of Mullaiperiyar!
The counter to above allegations on motivated propaganda and such has been that all this is an effort to create awareness on the issue and not intended to pressure any entity or to create a fear psychosis.
Conspiracy theories have also been floated connecting it to various issues. This includes Kudankulam, Sabarimala and religious conflict, the delicate balance in Kerala assembly and upcoming Piravom by-polls. Both sides have alleged their leaders as being sold out to the other
Suggestions for conflict resolution:
It’s clear from allegations and counters that the whole issue is about safety and power for Kerala. For Tamil Nadu it would be ownership and assured guarantee of water/power.
The result of such a big campaign is that no matter what the Supreme Court or the empowered committee order is that the people of Kerala would be left with the impression of lack of safety and a fear psychosis. Political leadership will therefore find it hard to arrive on a middle ground.
The centre must be concerned as many reports of vested foreign interests in whipping regional sentiments to the detriment of national security are in circulation.
A new dam with a minimum storage height of 204ft, 20 TMC may be proposed, giving the same old and agreed contractual terms to Tamil Nadu with regard to ownership and operation.
Monetary compensation can be reworked and Tamil Nadu can let go of hydel power produced. This though will have to clear hurdle of environment issues in a sensitive location like Tiger reserve. (One of the reserves which has reversed the trend of falling tigers).
Tamil Nadu is allowed to increase capacity to withdraw water from dam by increasing tunnels or widening them. This could help to decrease the storage level. (TN can store this in its plains)
The resultant equivalent power in lower camp in TN must be rerouted to Kerala. (As Idukki would be denied water for its HEP). This way even if increased drawing of water is made an issue it is compensated by power surrendered to Kerala.
If needed options through use of modern technology can be explored to dig tunnels much below 104 ft to reduce dead storage in MP dam.
To guarantee further safety Kerala could still construct new dam and put it in a joint operation, so that even if still extreme scenario of dam breaking this new dam will hold.
Interim safety measures
As an interim or short term measure, Kerala could construct a series of check dams and barrages en-route from MP Dam to Idukki dam to control the flow in case of break.
Decommissioning of dams involves lot of studies, regarding the impact of silt deposited over years, on environmental impact on flora and fauna, the flow time and so on. The dam cannot be decommissioned immediately.
All these could be jointly funded by central and both the state governments with the Centre taking a major role in the sensitive issue. After-all the Centre did consider special packages for Telungana, the North-East and the JK on grounds of national security, food security and such. (The Centre actually did refuse to fund the empowered committee prompting the SC to come down on it heavily!)
These remain the only possible mutually acceptable solution to this impasse.
The alternative is to let the cases float around in the courts for a long time! But one hopes the SC/empowered committee settle the issue once for all next year as the campaign build up has made it hard for the political leadership to convince the public.
Further the SC must ensure its judgements are respected such as how it ordered the centre to take ownership of a canal when the Punjab legislative assembly tried to thwart the courts!
Further strengthening process, if needed, must be carried out.
Instrumentation like use of strain gauges and accelerometers must be implemented. CWC had mentioned that it will suggest suitable instrumentation for main dam, baby dam and earth bund once strengthening of baby dam and earth bund was completed, but the legal process and Kerala’s non cooperation has scuttled such measures.
It is crucial that even as the debate and legal process continue, pending strengthening works need to be carried out immediately irrespective of verdict.
With IB reporting the potential possibility of terrorists targeting this dam to tear the fabric of our nation and this being close to Sabarimala, witnessing huge influx of people making security situation difficult, it is important the Centre send its central forces for security.
Finally the Media must share a major share of the blame for this current scenario. It indulged in sensationalism. Even the Kerala SHRC chairman made a similar observation. He went on to say that it was the media in Kerala and Tamil Nadu which allowed the issue to snowball.
The leaders on both sides to must refrain from flaring up panic and mutual hate for petty political gains. Fear-mongering must be harshly dealt with by law.