Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mullaperiyar: The Sad, Sad Water War

As I write this post, the news has come rolling out that the talks between Karunanidhi and Achuthanandan have ended in a deadlock. It is a real sad situation...I never wanted Kerala to be caught in the national limelight on such a divisive issue. I have followed discussions on this issue on, orkut and many other forums and have seen a lot of hatred and heated outpouring of words between indians of two neighbouring states. Politicians in both states have spat out a lot of rhetoric and worrying is the effect it is having on the Tamil Nadu side with men like Vaiko and Nedumaran around. For one, they know they hold a great bargaining chip of being the essential supplier of most food items to kerala...vegetables, milk, chicken, eggs, beef, anything you name which have threatened to blockade and already done though on a limted one-day basis which caused great harm to traders who saw their farm products rotting away at the Valayar check post. The greater threat i feel is to malayalis living in Tamil Nadu who may have to face the ire of Tamilians whose blood is on the boil as they feel another great wrong being done to them after the bitter Kaveri dispute.

The seed of the whole problem dates back to 1978 when leaking of the Mullaperiyar Dam forced Kerala to curtail the water flow down to 138 feet for the first time. Going back even further is the 999 year lease signed under duress by the Maharaja of Travancore-Cochin under pressure from the powerful Presidency of Madras under the Britishers through which water from the Periyar flowing entirely through Kerala was diverted to irrigate the water-deprived Kambum-Theni belt using the newly constructed Mullaperiyar dam. All was well until the recent earthquake and further leakages to the dam made its safety doubtful and Kerala was forced to cut down the water level to 136 feet from the 142feet it was earlier. To compound the confusion on the Kerala side has been recent media reports on who actually controlled the dam...while some said TN police had taken over the dam, others said it was still safe in Kerala's hands.

Thankfully Kerala has been blessed with good rains for the past many years and it has never hesitated in sharing the waters of the Periyar, but now that the issue of the safety of the people and their property in the five districts of Central Travancore if the dam bursts has come up, it is surprising Tamil Nadu hasnt shown the sensitivity that was expected especially when it is faced with the issue of Karnataka not releasing TN's deserving share of Kaveri Waters after its newly constructed dam has come up. While demands have come up in Kerala to scrap the 999 year agreement and stop sharing the water altogether or to go in for a fresh lease, Kerala's proposals of a new dam being constructed close to Mullaperiyar and decommisioning the current one has not found favour with Tamil Nadu. Further damaging is the fact they have closed their eye on the recent damage to the Theni NH across the border when heavy rains caused the water level to rise above 136 feet at the dam causing water to overflow through the spillways.

The Supreme Court judgement that asked Kerala to implement the 142ft level complicated matters further as Kerala passed an ordinance circumventing it. It must be stated here that while Tamil Nadu showed the CWC report that stated the dam safe the Kerala side failed to argue its side properly despite several reports by its agencies, contrary to the CWC report. Seems like the highest court of the land is looking to review its earlier stand by now requesting both chief ministers to meet to sort out the issue instead of enforcing its judgement. My ancestral home and land in Idukki lies bordering the Periyar river and its not just loss of life and property, many of our valuable flora and fauna too lie under the threat of this disaster. If the Mullaperiyar dam bursts its not just the people of Kerala who will lose, the people of Kambum-Theni can kiss goodbye to their precious source of livelihood, agriculture. Building a new dam might take a few years, and cost a lot of money but if that is the only solution to unneccessary quarrel, i hope our politicians will be wise enough to go that route. Culturally, economically and for humanitarian purposes people can come closer...westernization, globalization, United Nations initiative are valid examples, but where mindless politics drives all meaningful intercourse, political boundaries will remain a hard fact of life. To wind up, it all comes down to a simple question like does not water belong to everyone, and to even tougher posers, what will happen to the National River-Interlinking Project, all this even remotely feasible in this age of fiercely independent meaningless entities like our Indian states.

Diverting totally, read this wonderful short story that is taking shape at this blog-pal's site if you haven't already.


b v n said...

Jiby, I wanted to post on this but found it somehow very disturbing. Its easy to comment on lebanon n all but when Volvo buses to BLR gets roadblocked, it hits home. The feeling is exactly as you said, I never wanted Kerala to be in such a vicious fight. As a keralite, I echo your sentiments and feel the same abt the issue.

then again there are a few things which I hope we need to look at,

why werent we able to defend our case in any court of law even after repeated efforts ?

The safety issue remaining - the farmers suffering in extreme poverty (yearly revenue loss of around 400cr) are mainly samba farmers (not verified - heard from colleagues from the same area)..its the red rice which is our staple food. The condition of the farmers can be reversed by mullaperiyar waters.

Why is tamilnad the only state in India with no water resources. The seed lies in the purely linguistic division of states with no regard for any other factor.

Again, excellent take on the issue from your side . Great !!

Jiby said...

bvn, very true...the sooner the govts decide on a feasible solution, it will mitigate the plight of the farmers.

as for why kerala failed to build up and defend our case there is only one answer that i can think of...the maha kallan, jacob was the irrigation minister for 4 years!

and there is this most bold, sensible article that i have till date seen to appear on the print media that i just chanced upon...

b v n said...

Jiby, Jacob kallan aanennu ariyam...but i've also heard he was a brilliant administrator...a man of ideas...kettarivanu :)

did you see todays matrubhumi ?...excellent take on the issue..chk it out

Jiby said...

bvn, thanks for that referral to mathrubhumi...looks like this was the first time kerala made a determined pitch to bring out the facts in the mullaperiyar imbroglio. the ground work they did seemed to have met success at the talks.

For those who dont want to go over to and read the articles, here are some of the arguments kerala made...i doubt if these will ever appear in any of the english i reproduce it before you.

1. CWC which certified the mullaperiyar dam as safe, had given an OK certification for the Koyna Dam too which burst causing great destruction to life and property. The TN side fumbled to reply and for the first time their argument on enforcing the SC verdict based on the CWC recommendations lost ground.
2. The objections of one of the experts on the CWC team was overlooked while tabling the report.
3. The argument of the TN side to the SC was that usually the idukki dam is empty when the mullaperiyar dam is full and if breached the idukki dam can take the excess capacity. their argument was both the dams can never be full at the same time. however when reminded of 1992 when both idukki and mullaperiyar overflowed the TN side had no answers.
4.Even if Idukki Dam can hold the Mullaperiyar waters if the dam is breached the area up till Idukki Dam which is downriver incorporates three towns and a population over 1 lakh. This was news to the water officials and the central water resources minister.
5.With the water from mullaperiyar TN generates a revenue of Rs.1000 crores annually but are stingy about constructing a new dam for Rs.300 crore.
6.There are arrears to the tune of Rs.50 crore on the lease that TN is yet to clear.
7.The Union Minister found Kerala's argument so convincing he shot down a CWC representative who tried to interrupt the argument.
8.It became clear by the end of yesterday's meeting that the CWC and the TN govt deliberately misrepresented a lot of facts in their submission before the Supreme Court.
9.Finally Karunanidhi came out of the meeting saying he neither favoured nor opposed constructing a new dam...a clear and welcome change in his position which gives cause for hope and reiterated that the two states should continue to live in friendship and peace.

Lets all hope for the best, for all parties concerned.

b v n said...

Great summary man. And having N K Premachandran deal with Delhi is a nice move...his decade long stint in the upper and lower house will surely payoff. lal paranja pole "ee kali njan jayikkan vendi kalikkunnathanu" :)))

Jiby said...

premachandran and p.c.thomas are the only two guys from kerala i have heard, open their mouths to talk in parliament.

premachandran is definitely the right man for the job and he is a great guy too...its a pity he isnt in the two mainstream parties...or definitely he was chief ministerial mom and i wud say he would lose his way and his career in the factional splits the rsp went through...hope he continues the good work.

and isnt that last one-liner, one of the best ever of mohanlal!

Anonymous said...

These are all crocodile tears shed by media and forced by media the politicians. There is a mud dam before Mullaperiyar, if we demolish it it will never allow the water to come near 139 ft, that we are not doing. All Kerala side interest is to construct a dam with ADB money and think about commission from that. The present dam is created by British and we all know its unlikely to burst unless Manorama people in their eagerness to create panic go there and burst it.
Now do we want this water? Nay is answer, you people go and see Thenmala dama, its full of pure water. we are not using it, not even a mineral water plant we constructed to use that water. We simply waste it after spending lot of money to construct it.
Now if we want the water and want to construct a dam, unless TN people decide , it is not going to happen. I will not surprise if Achutahnadan ask give us Maudani back from CBe jail and take Mullaperiyar water instead. All 140 MLA afraid of Muslim sentiments will sign it too.
All our 19 MPs are good for nothing, while even a single MP from TN will fight for his state.

Jiby said...

anon, so if the mud dam is demolished how will the 142feet water that TN badly needs be achieved? everyone agrees we have enough water like you said about the thenmala dam. and it is just not the manorama, every paper has reported about the increasing leakages in the dam.

so what is it about the 112 year dam that makes you so sure it can stand, that too when it lies on a fault zone, that just recently saw an earthquake. it will be nice if you remember the koyna dam burst in 4 years of its completion in 1967 when a major earthquake hit. today india is considered a leader in building dams of the best quality...why take a chance?

we can all imagine the impact something like this can have on a more thickly populated kerala. on first reading your arguments impressed me, but am not so sure when i thought of it in detail. thanks for putting up some interesting points.

i agree with you on our MP's...the only time i have seen them united is lamely holding placards together outside parliament while TN MP's get their work done either through the high profile cabinet positions they possess or the blackmailing they get to do with the luxury of supporting a fragile govt.

mathew said...

Seriously..Never expected such a skimirish between TN and Kerala..I always thought people of either states were sensible enough..

Hope things are worked out based on ground realities rather than political implications!!

Good that you have posted on such a sensitive issue..I was not aware of all the details behind it.

Sachin R K said...

jiby...your post was certainly an eyeopener...I was under the impression that Kerala was on a loose legal wicket ( having renewed the 999 year agreement in 1970 )...hmmm lets hope for the best at the ministerial level talks...

Mind Curry said...

certainly a crazy issue..and more than water, i am beginning to feel its about politics. it will take a couple of cauvery-like riots before a new dam comes up.

i wonder too what will happen to the river-interlinking project (a brilliant project - imagine the nation uniting through water, sans borders, floods and droughts) with such fanatical mentality bordering on insensitivity.

abhishek said...

Jiby, this is the best article I've read on this topic.

It is an interesting scuffle, and would be just "interesting" if thousands of lives weren't involved in the process.

And great job summarizing the mathrubhumi article!

The two just have to keep talking. The Kerala side seems stronger than I thought, but all can be of no avail if there is no let up from the TN side.

andy said...

Jibby. As usual you write with feeling and substance. Your few sentences have clarified the issue more than many newspaper write ups.

Anand K said...

Great post Jabba...... I was sorta in the dark with this Mullapperiar Issue. Thanx for this Jyotirgamaya!

Anonymous said...

An insightful post.

I remember reading somewhere i think it was Arundhati Roy's that dams were the brilliant ideas of the west. They gave funds [external debts] in the name of development aid, and took back much more than what they needed to.

Dams cause serious damage on the ecosystem, and especially on the people living close to it.

I really wonder why all this ruckus! Taking into consideration the people living next to mullaperiyar, nothing ought to be done which would jeopardise their livelihood.

Most of the inter state talks and deliberation, i feel are a kind on connivance. People are fooled. Media adds fuel to the fire. Those who have the authority are not concerned. This sure is being converted inot an impasse by the politicians.

hope and love said...

great post..! well prsented

Rai said...

Well, this is a very sensitive post. In fact, I came to know a lot of issues from your writing. Great one!

Amrita said...

hii finally you have come up with a post!
Thanks to touch upon this issue. i just read the front page headlines of newspapers as i don't find much time in the morning to flip through the pages. and issues down south are generally the inside stories, coz front page issues are gebnerally national and local breaking news beats. so was in the darkness about the tiff between Kerela and TN. had a faint brush up on the Kaveri water issues. but your post updated me on such crisis and hoopla going on down south.

I agree with you totally. these mindless and self-obsessed politicians should be scathed in public for toying with issues, risking life and property of the commoners. Their foreplay in the game of politics is the cause of public agony . seriously, there should be benediction, they need to be paid for all the hiatus they bring about

alakananda said...

Hi Jiby,

Thanks for your encouraging comment and for your advice. I've decided to follow it. I'll put up my articles in beta blogger too. thank you.


Anonymous said...

Guys ,
Some points to be noted here is
1) Kerala Never denied to give water to TN ,They are only worried about their people lives,
2)If something happening to Mullaperiyar mean while does anyone think TN will get a drop of water afterwards...I dont think so.
3) What if SC says the 999 yrs agreement is invalid
4)Think how much money TN pays to Andra and karnataka for water per year ,here Kerala is a free(cheap) Water cow
5)A Concrete Dam's life is 70 many dam you will build to give water to TN for 999 year

Either we can build a Dam now and make the agreeement for shorter period,say 99 years etc
and decommsion the dam then...or find out otherways

Arun Kumar said...

the concerns are understandable.. we should solve it in a right way. neither the left nor the cong nor AIADMk nor you nor me knows anything about the real state of the dam. let some expert examineit, do extensive tests and investigations and if they can strengthen the structure it will be great cost saving. let us leave it to experts and not scare people by unscintific, emotional approach to the issue...

Bijumon Thomas said...

Indian culture is rich but substantial erosion that's taken place can be noticed due to controversies initiated well nested all around this problem of Dam Safety. On a wider scale, this is an ideal example, Democracy in its form is not suitable for nation unless clean good policies added with able &only capable politicians who understand needs of people in right perspectives. Their good participation by having on higher chairs of power will selectively suffice needs. Thereby, Games in name of Democracy will come to end. It therefore calls for serious review of Democratic Structure to make it safe on urgent basis. Politicians for some illicit gains including fierce games for capturing votes have substantially weakened Democracy & its anticipated marvel missions. It’s likely to get birched causing colossal loss in Lacs of Crores in very short time as noticed &already began through various recent scams& frauds.. THUS, WHISTLES BLOWN, with DAM Controversy issue. We need good people , to come forward to serve nation!