The Mulla Periyar dam issue is one of the most contended inter-state river water disputes and the bone of contention between two states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Some facts on Mulla Periyar dam
- The dam is located in Idukki district of Kerala, but it is operated by Tamil Nadu following the 999 years lease signed between Maharaja of Travancore and Secretary of State of India in 1886.
- The dam was constructed between 1887 and 1895, to redirect the flow of river away from the Arabian sea towards the Bay of Bengal to provide water to the arid region of Madurai in Madras Presidency.
- The dam is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers in Idukki district of Kerala.
Mulla Periyar Dam Issue
The 1886 lease agreement was renewed in the 1970s by both government of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. According to which government of Tamil Nadu shall pay rent to Kerala government in return for right over land, water and authority to develop hydropower project.
- The issue started when the dam developed some minor cracks in 1979 after an earthquake.
- So the Central Water Commission of GOI conducted a survey and recommended reducing the water height from 142 feet to 136 feet. If definitive measures were taken the government of Tamil Nadu can increase the water height to its full capacity of 152 feet.
Supreme Court Verdict
- The Tamil Nadu government undertook dam strengthening measures and rose the water level to 142 feet in 2006 after getting legal sanctions from the supreme court.
- But the Kerala government amended the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, restricting the water level to 136 feet.
- In two separate judgements, in 2006 and 2014, the apex court held that the water level can be raised to 142 ft.
- In 2014 judgement, the court struck down the amendment to the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, calling it unconstitutional.
- The Supreme Court had also directed the Central and the state governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to set up three panels to prepare a contingency plan in case of a disaster.
Arguments of Kerala
- Recent flood situation in the downstream regions of Idukki dam in Kerala is due to Tamil Nadu releasing the water after the dam reached its maximum capacity.
- In an event of a dam break, the entire Idukki district will be submerged killing 30 lakh people.
- So they want to lower the water limit to 130 feet
Arguments of Tamil Nadu
- Mulla Periyar dam is " hydrologically and structurally safe " can withstand " maximum credible earthquake forces " in that region. It is a " masonry gravity dam founded on hard rock with a broad base and will not suddenly burst like an arch dam ". The report by an empowered committee found it safe to store water up to 152 feet.
- Several districts in south Tamil Nadu depends on the water from Mulla Periyar dam for irrigation and drinking water.
- Reducing the water level to 130 feet will affect their water security during summer.
- The average water level is usually in its 120's feet and the quantum of water stored is just fraction of the capacity of other dams in Kerala.
- The flood situation in Kerala is usually due to release of water from another dam in Idukki called Idukki Dam that is 5 times larger than Mulla Periyar dam.
Crux of the Issue - Tendency to store
- Both the governments want to store as much water as possible during monsoon so that it can be utilized during summers.
- So whenever water level reaches the full capacity of the dam, water from several dams are released in large quantity causing flooding in the downstream.
As observed by supreme court there is no doubt regarding the structural safety of dam up to 142 feet. Centre and state government should come up with a contingency plan in case of disaster. Both Kerala and Tamil Nadu must introspect seriously over their respective positions and avoid acrimony while protecting their interests. Reducing the tendency to store water beyond warranted in dams by both states can solve flooding issues.