Three-member committee’s permission required for installation

Installation and activation of an early warning and surveillance system in the Mullaperiyar dam area, to alert those downstream of any eventuality, now requires the clearance of a three-member committee, as per the Supreme Court’s order.

The court, in its verdict in the case on Wednesday, had held the dam safe and ordered the constitution of the committee to supervise the water-level raise.

Constitution of panel

The panel would consist of a representative of the Central Water Commission and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the order said. The panel would inspect the dam and suggest precautionary measures, if required.

With the apex court concluding that the dam was safe, the State government may need to try hard to convince the committee on the need for activating the warning system.

Questions may be raised about the need for such a system when the apex court had rejected the State’s argument that the dam was unsafe, disaster management experts said.

Time lost

The State had lost precious time in installing the system, they said. The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) had proposed electronic and human surveillance systems to reduce the loss of life and property in case of a dam break, sources said.

The withdrawal of a government agency, which had offered to develop the technology for a video-surveillance system, and the objections raised by the Forest Department for site surveys had delayed the commissioning of the project. Though the SDMA had succeeded in roping in a private agency to develop the technology, the power and cable connectivity for the units and selection of technology for streaming the video signals remained unresolved, they said. The massive training and preparedness programmes and involving over 60,000 residents in the downstream area may be redundant if no warnings are issued in time. Making the early warning system operational would have been the logical conclusion of the massive exercise, they said.

Safety audit

Barring the safety audit of all buildings in Idukki and providing of adequate facilities for the policemen manning the dam, most of the suggestions of disaster management experts had been implemented in Idukki.

The safety audit was dropped as the authorities feared it would cause panic among the residents. The policemen guarding the dam still banked on solar lanterns as cables could not be drawn to the outpost. Policemen had been guarding the dam even without basic facilities such as power, they said.

The surveillance system included video and infrared monitoring of the dam. Senior officers of the Forest Department defended their decision to not allow cables to be drawn, stating that the authorities failed to obtain the mandatory clearances.

Mandatory clearance

The clearance of the National Board for Wildlife and Forest Conservation was required for any such activities in a tiger habitat such as Periyar. The department had no other objections to the proposal, a Forest Department sources said.

SDMA authorities said the authority, constituted under the recently passed National Disaster Management Act, had the statutory powers to examine any construction in the State and take steps to prevent any disaster if ‘it anticipated any threat to public safety.’

It also had powers to undertake any disaster- and risk-reduction measures and ensure public safety without waiting for clearance from any other bodies, sources said.

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