Even as critics expounding ‘all is lost on Mullaperiyar front’ slogan have taken centre stage in the State over the report of the Supreme Court appointed Empowered Committee (EC) on Mullaperiyar, a close look at the report in whole, may point to the scope for realization of the avowed stance of the State, ‘Water for Tamil Nadu, Safety for Kerala’.
In fact, in spite of the criticism heaped on him by a section of the activists and politicians alike, the separate note by EC member Justice (Rtd.) K T Thomas, who was nominated by Kerala may hold key to further arguments on the report in the apex court, it is pointed out.
His dissenting note has two major parts, one dealing with the need to keep water level at 136 ft and the other on the recommendation for construction of a new tunnel at 50 ft. According to him, findings on the safety of the dam were not enough to permit the FRL to go beyond 136 ft.
Speaking to The Hindu, Justice Thomas said that the fixation of 136 ft. by Kerala State Legislature was in consideration of the needs of the State and also to relieve the people of Kerala living near the dam of their fear psyche and also for the welfare of people on both sides of the border. “The further proceedings will give the State the last chance to convince the SC that the Amendment to Dam Safety Act fixing up 136 ft as the FRL for Mullaperiyar dam was passed by a competent legislature and that there was no reason to strike it down.”
When the agreement was executed in 1886, the State of Travancore never needed any water which flowed into the dam for any purpose whatsoever. However, with the completion of Idukki Arch Dam, the major source of hydel power projects on which Kerala depends heavily for power requirements since 1970, the picture had changed. It was a geographical fact that the catchment areas of Idukki dam include the catchment areas of Mullaperiyar also. While the Idukki dam has a capacity of 75 TMC, the FRL in the dam has never gone above 54 TMC. If the FRL at Mullaperiyar is allowed to go beyond 136 that will adversely affect the water flow into Idukki and the reservoir of that would not get water even reach 54 TMC, he pointed out.
“There is no dispute that the primary ownership of the water flowing into Mullaperiyar vests with Kerala and it is only by virtue of the terms of the Agreement of 1886 that Tamil Nadu could use this water. It will thus be inequitable to inflict such a great damage to the water sources of Idukki dam for augmenting the water quantity in Mullaperiyar,” he said. Since power generation was not contemplated during the original agreement, the quantity of water stored beyond FRL of 136 ft in Mullapeiryar be allowed to flow into Idukki dam which would help the real owners of the water to use at least such excess portion for the benefit of the people of Kerala.
More importantly, he pointed out that raising the FRL beyond 136 ft would be against the Statute as the said limit was fixed by a statute passed by a competent State legislature. The mere fact that another State had challenged the validity of the legislation is not sufficient for the EC to ignore statutory injunction, his note said.
When the original lease agreement was signed in 1886, the only object considered for the construction of the dam was to supply water for irrigation to the lands located in the five districts of Tamil Nadu. The irrigation in those areas of land was comfortably carried on without raising the FRL beyond 136 ft. during the past many years.
According to him, the proposal for a new tunnel at the height 50 ft from the bottom, to be constructed by TN, would also open up new scope for further negotiations for bringing down the FRL as to enable Tamil Nadu to get the water which they presently claim (between 106 ft tunnel and 142 ft FRL) proportionately.” This would help us to bring down the FRL to, say, 100 ft to 125 ft, and also help TN to get water they require. This will help the excess water to flow into Idukki dam.
That technical parameters alone should not be considered for finding a final solution to the vexed issue has been accepted by the EC was evident from the decision to suggest to the SC, two alternatives to find an amicable resolution, he pointed out. As such, the question of the real outcome of the case rests with the way it will be handled in the coming days.