Dam dispute

Emotions are overflowing in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the 115-year Mullaperiyar dam constructed by the British in Kerala territory to supply water for irrigation in five districts of Tamil Nadu.

The dam is operated by Tamil Nadu under a 999-year lease from the then  Maharaja of Travancore. It has been a source of dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu for many decades now.  Kerala has argued that the dam has outlived its life of 50 years and is unsafe, endangering the lives of  lakhs of people in the state.  It also claims that the lease agreement was forced on the Maharaja by the British.

The state had demanded the water level in the reservoir to be lowered and now wants the dam to be decommissioned and a new dam to be built, which will ensure the supply of water to Tamil Nadu also.

Kerala has also approached the Supreme Court on the issue where the matter is still being pursued by both sides. The Central Water Commission had studied the safety of the dam and had proposed a reduction in the water level and measures to strengthen it. There have been other technical studies also with varying results.

The Kerala government has claimed that a committee of experts had found that the dam was unsafe, especially because it is located in a seismic area. A series of recent earth quakes in the region and the rise of the water level after the rains have added to the apprehensions in Kerala. It is claimed that the dam would give away if tremors occur closer to it. There is media frenzy and panic among the people who may be affected by any untoward incident happening to the dam.

Rather than allowing the controversy to worsen, the Centre should take the initiative to sort out the dispute between the two state governments. The safety of the dam should be technically assessed and both states should be involved in the exercise. Steps should be taken to lower the water level if that is needed.

Tamil Nadu’s legitimate rights to the water from the dam should be respected and the rising fears in Kerala should be removed. An assurance of effective action might lower the temperatures in both states. Politicians have taken hard and populist positions which will only make a solution more difficult. Joint efforts under the auspices of the Centre should be launched immediately to help find a solution.

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