Tremors, movie focus attention on controversial dam

By Sanu George, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram : A series of tremors since June and an explosive movie have again focussed attention on a dam in Kerala the state doesn’t want but is critical for neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

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Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the Mullaperiyar dam, built under a 1886 pact between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile British Raj.

While the dam is located in Kerala, its waters serve Tamil Nadu. And this is the problem.

Tamil Nadu wants the dam’s storage capacity to be increased by raising the dam height — from 136 feet (41.5 m) to 142 feet (43 m). Irrigation needs have shot up in Tamil Nadu.

Kerala is seeking a new dam, and has offered to build and fund it. Tamil Nadu doesn’t agree.

In recent days, Kerala TV channels have been showing an emotionally charged state Water Resources Minister P.J. Joseph threatening to quit the ministry if need be in support of a new dam.

“I cannot sleep ever since tremors have become routine since June because more than three million lives in Idukki, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kottayam and Alappuzha will be endangered,” said Joseph.

A team of scientists led by John Mathai from the Centre for Earth Science Studies reached Idukki Sunday after Chief Minister Oommen Chandy asked them to visit the place following a 3.4 degree earthquake Saturday.

The epicentre in Idukki district lay 30 km from the dam.

In the meantime, a multi-lingual film “DAM 999”, directed by Dubai-based marine engineer Sohan Roy, has been released in Kerala but banned in Tamil Nadu.

“The bursting of the dam is just one aspect in the film,” Roy said, adding the film promotes Kerala’s strengths.

Social networking sites are having a field day over the dam.

For the past one week, the only thing being discussed on Facebook is Mullaperiyar. Numerous pictures have been posted showing the course of the water in case the dam breaks.

Meanwhile, with rain intensifying in and around Idukki district, the water level in the dam has crossed 135.5 feet.

“We have informed people who live downstream to be cautious,” said Idukki district collector E. Devadas.

The Mullaperiyar Action Committee, which has been on a warpath for long demanding a new dam, Sunday decided that they will have to resort to other forms of protest.

“It now appears that we will have to direct our protest against Tamil Nadu – because we want a new dam and they are against it. Things cannot go on like this any more because our patience is wearing thin. Stronger forms of protests will be the need of the hour,” Committee president P.N. Sebastian declared Sunday morning.

(Sanu George can be contacted at [email protected])