If the Centre failed Kerala on its promises on free trade agreement, neighbouring Tamil Nadu gave a different challenge. The Chief Minister said that on the Mullaperiyar issue, his Tamil Nadu counterpart M. Karunanidhi, and Opposition Leader J. Jayalalithaa were trying to prove who was the true leader of Tamil people. He said they wanted water at the cost of lakhs of Keralites lives.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan reiterated here on Wednesday that the Centre had indeed misled Kerala on the ASEAN free trade agreement.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy were now trying to hide fact that they had deceived Kerala, the Chief Minister said in reply to questions from reporters at a Cabinet briefing.

Mr. Achuthanandan said that the fact that no negative list for imports had been approved as part of the ASEAN agreement was brought out by the media. The reporter of the CPI (M) party organ Desabhimani, who had accompanied the Prime Minister on his recent trip for talks with ASEAN countries, had phoned him in with the details.

He recalled that Mr. Anand Sharama had maintained that 289 items, including those of concern to Kerala, had been included in the negative list for imports and hence there would not be any hardship to farmers of the State. The Prime Minister had upheld this view.

He also noted that a delegation from Kerala had impressed upon them that the agreement would harm the farmers as had happened in the case of other free trade agreements. The Prime Minister and the Union Minister had promised at that time that Kerala would be consulted on issues of its concern. However, the agreement was signed all on a sudden without holding the promised consultations.

Asked about the agitation being launched in Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar issue, the Chief Minister said that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Opposition Leader J. Jayalalithaa were trying to prove who was the true leader of Tamil people. Their demand was that Tamil Nadu should get water even at the cost of lives of lakhs of Keralites.

Mr. Achuthanandan recalled the Mullaperiyar agreement was one imposed upon the erstwhile Travancore State by the British. Still, Kerala had been supplying water to Tamil Nadu for 110 years. These had brought prosperity in several districts of that State. Tamil Nadu had also produced electricity worth crores of rupees using the water. Its concern now was whether such benefits would be lost.

He noted that the studies had shown that the dam, which was the oldest dam made of lime-surki remaining in the World, would be damaged by floods and earthquake. Lakhs of people of Idukki, Ernakulam and other districts feared for their life. The question was whether to risk their lives to supply water to Tamil Nadu or build a new dam to supply water to that State.