D-Sector for Development Community

   Friday, October 19, 2018
Agriculture - Duties and Rights - Education - Environment - Food - Global - Governance - Health - Indian Economy - Indian Society - Physical Development - Social Welfare - Water and Sanitation
Print | Back
Mullaperiyar: Lives or livelihoods?
By Sudhirendar Sharma



Nearly hundred large dams in the country are over a century old. Controversy over Mullaperiyar dam provides an opportunity to evolve legal and institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of people and all such structures.

edf40wrjww2articles:details

While drawing one of the longest leases in recent memory, the Maharaja of Travancore and his counterpart in the erstwhile Madras Presidency would have never imagined that inking a 999-year lease on building a diversion structure for sharing waters would lay the foundation of the bitterest conflict between two states which will inherit that heritage. The Mullaperiyar dam, the 116-year-old structure, is in the eye of the worst inter-state feud between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Kerala is concerned about safety of the dam, Tamil Nadu about the waters that flow downstream; Kerala is worried about its people should the dam burst, Tamil Nadu about continued irrigation to its farmers’ field; and, Kerala insists on lowering water level in the dam whereas Tamil Nadu is persistent with the current level. With Tamil Nadu disposing what Kerala proposes, contours of a plausible ‘water war’ have seemingly been drawn?

With political fever running high, both the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister would find it tough to resolve the conflict. Neither can a judicial determination allay fears about an age-old dam nor can a political statement ease the storm. Since series of tremors have recently rocked the area, the fear of a possible dam burst could be anything but real. Under such situation, safety cannot be a political pill that downstream communities could be made to swallow.

As both sides have taken well-entrenched positions, no expert can resolve the dispute in the absence of enlightened political leadership. If the dam is at the epicentre of the political feud, anything less than its decommissioning may not suffice as a long term solution. Leadership of both states must eschew differences to see logic in dam decommissioning, as solution to a problem cannot be found by upholding the condition that led to the problem in the first place.

Leadership of both states must eschew differences to see logic in dam decommissioning, as solution to a problem cannot be found by upholding the condition that led to the problem in the first place.

To make a beginning, both the States must first abrogate ‘the 1885 agreement’ that neither holds any legal binding in the present context nor has stood in good test to serve their respective interests. By proposing to lower water level in the existing dam, from a maximum of 142 feet to a much safer level at 120 feet, as an immediate step towards reducing the risk of a possible dam collapse Kerala has simultaneously moved a step towards dam decommissioning as well.

For Tamil Nadu, which controls and maintains the dam located in the Kerala territory, any fresh proposal amounts to violation of the existing conditions in the treaty. In reality, by agreeing to such proposal Tamil Nadu stands to lose control over the dam and forfeit its rights over roughly 8,000 hectares of land the then Travancore king had acceded to Madras Presidency for constructing the dam. For Tamil Nadu, these are stakes worth fighting over!

No wonder, therefore, that the Tamil Nadu government insists that the Mullaperiyar dam is safe, and that the water level must be maintained as per the agreement. Neither does it accept Kerala government’s assurance of maintaining present level of flows even after lowering the water level in the dam nor does it agree to create a new dam downstream of the existing structure. Tamil Nadu persists with Hobson’s choice, ‘it will agree to anything provided the Mullaperiyar dam exists’.

On all accounts, Tamil Nadu’s protracted position is on a weak footing. It is opposed to fresh proposals because once it accepts these, it will cease to have a ‘riparian’ status that it had continued to enjoy ever since the west-flowing Mullayar and Periyar rivers, dammed at Mullaperiyar, were diverted by daring piece of engineering to irrigate eastern face of the Western Ghats, through Vaigai, a rain-fed river which is the lifeline of southern Tamil Nadu.

The Mullaperiyar dam offers a challenging opportunity for the country to get into the act of dam decommissioning, by perhaps setting up a Dam Decommissioning Commission.

Controversy has dogged the masonry dam several times since its completion in 1895. Many in Kerala believe that Mullaperiyar water has been forcibly diverted to Tamil Nadu. This grievance has repeatedly been aired, making Tamil Nadu suspicious of Kerala’s genuine concern about dam safety. In a politically vitiated environment, mistrust has percolated down to last person in both states. As politicians ride populist rhetoric, it has turned out to be a law and order problem.

When the Mullaperiyar dam was built, provisions of environment impact assessment (EIA) were not in vogue. In retrospect, however, it can be safely concluded that it would have failed the ecological test on account of submerging and diverting a river from its natural course. On social account, but for an ‘agreement’ between two ‘regimes’, it has remained a bone of contention between people ever since the lease deed was enforced upon them by the colonial rulers.

With the dam having outlived its social and environmental relevance, decommissioning of the structure alone can allay its safety fears. Unlike countries like the USA that has decommissioned several dams, India has only been commissioning dams since independence. The Mullaperiyar dam offers a challenging opportunity for the country to get into the act of dam decommissioning, by perhaps setting up a Dam Decommissioning Commission.

With as many as 100 large dams in the country that are over one hundred years old, there is an urgent need to evolve legal and institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of people and the structures. Political procrastination will not only stress the structure but create undesired anxiety among people living downstream!

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note
 


 
 Other Articles in Environment Development
 
 
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Commentators
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
Member Login
- New Member
- Forgot Password

WoW Gold,Buy WoW Gold,Website Design,Web Design,Health Tips,Health Guides,NFL News,NFL Jerseys,Fashion Design,Home Design,Replica Handbags,Replica Bags,Jewelry Stores,Wedding Jewelry,WOW Gold,Cheap WoW Gold,Wedding Dresses,Evening Dresses,MMORPG Guides,MMORPG Tips,Fashion Jewelry,Fashion Crystal,Sexy Lingerie,Best Sexy Lingerie,Fashion Clothing,Fashion Shoes,Travel News,Travel Guides,Education News,Education Tips