Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Mullaperiyar Dam issue

Topics Covered: Disaster management.

Mullaperiyar Dam issue:

Context:

The Supreme Court has decided to consider the plea demanding to reduce the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam during monsoon, on August 24.

Background:

The petition was filed by a resident of Idukki district of Kerala to lower the water level of Mullaperiyar dam to 130 feet saying there is a danger of earthquakes and floods in the area as monsoon progresses in the State.

Mullaperiyar Dam- what you need to know?

  • Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by Tamil Nadu following an 1886 lease indenture for 999 years (the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement) that was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of State for India for the Periyar Irrigation works.
  • Constructed between 1887 and 1895, the dam redirected the river to flow towards the Bay of Bengal, instead of the Arabian Sea and provide water to the arid rain region of Madurai in Madras Presidency.
  • The dam is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers inKerala’s Idukki district.

What’s the issue surrounding?

The lease agreement was renewed in the 1970s by both Tamil Nadu and Kerala giving the former rights to the land and water from the dam, besides the authority to develop hydropower projects at the site. In return, Kerala would receive rent from Tamil Nadu.

  • The first cracks in this agreement surfaced in 1979 when a minor earthquake had resulted in cracks in the dam.
  • The Central Water Commission, under the Government of India, conducted a study and recommended lowering the water stored in the dam’s reservoir to 136 feet from 142 feet.
  • If definitive measures were implemented, only then could the Tamil Nadu administration raise water levels to the dam’s full capacity of 152 feet.

 What Tamil Nadu says?

Tamil Nadu claims that although it has undertaken measures to strengthen the dam, the Kerala government has blocked any attempt to raise the reservoir water level – resulting in losses for Madurai farmers.

Kerala’s arguments:

Kerala, however, highlights fears of devastation by residents living downstream in the earthquake-prone district of Idukki.

Scientists have argued that if there is an earthquake in the region measuring above six on the Richter scale, the lives of over three million people will come under grave danger.

Supreme Court verdict:

  1. In 2006, the Supreme court gave Tamil Nadu legal sanction to raise the water level to 142 feet.
  2. In response, Kerala amended the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, restricting the water level to 136 feet.
  3. In 2012, however, an Apex court-appointed committee stated that the dam was “structurally and hydrologically safe” and that the Tamil Nadu government could raise water levels up to 142 feet.
  4. In 2014, the court event struck down the amendment to the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, calling it unconstitutional.
  5. The Supreme Court had also directed the Centre and the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to set up three panels to prepare a contingency plan in case of a disaster.

Conclusion:

Even years after this verdict, the latest developments show that the Mullaperiyar dam continues to be a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with mutliple interpretations on everything from the veracity of the 1886 agreement governing its use to the project’s structural safety.

Mullaperiyar_Dam

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Locations of Mullar and Periyar rivers.
  2. Location of Mullaperiyar dam?
  3. Who manages the dam?
  4. About the 1886 Periyar Lake Lease Agreement.
  5. About the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act).

Mains Link:

Examine why the Mullaperiyar dam issue has become bone of contention between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Examine if the union government can help resolve this issue.

Sources: the Hindu.