The delay in securing clearance from the Forest Department for a site survey threatens to jeopardise a project to install a remote surveillance system to keep an eye on the Mullaperiyar dam and alert people living downstream in the event of a dam-break.

Citing a Supreme Court order and a subsequent office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the Forest Department maintains that it is constrained to permit any activity that entails the diversion of forest land. The State Disaster Management Authority, however, argues that its request does not imply diversion of forest land.

“The surveillance system involving video cameras and communication antennas will cause minimum disturbance to the forest ecosystem,” says Sekhar L. Kuriakose, SDMA member and Head Scientist, SEOC.

How it works

Designed to supplement the alerts issued by policemen posted at the site, the proposed remote surveillance system for the dam is the first of its kind in the country.

The video stream from the cameras will be transmitted through VSAT or VHF antennas to a two-tier monitoring system comprising the district-level emergency operations centre headed by the Idukki District Collector and the police at one end, and the State Emergency Operations Centre at the other end.

The District Collector will also be provided a specially equipped mobile phone that can access video images, trigger the hooters installed in populated areas, and alert emergency response teams. Officials point out that the system could also be used for 24-hour surveillance of forest land.

A technology group headed by a retired Commodore from the Indian Navy has been constituted to identify the sites for installation of the cameras and communication equipment. The group, however, has been unable to proceed with its work after the Forest Department backed out of a commitment to permit the site survey to identify the appropriate locations.

‘Case may be weakened’

SDMA sources said Forest officials were insisting on third party certification of the imminent threat posed by the dam, to secure clearance from the MoEF.

Dr. Kuriakose said this would be construed as an attempt to play down the magnitude of the threat posed by the Mullaperiyar dam to Kerala.

It could even weaken the State’s argument in the protracted litigation with Tamil Nadu on the issue, he warned.

Forest Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said he was yet to receive the file or formal request seeking permission for the site survey. The decision to install surveillance cameras was taken during Mr. Radhakrishnan’s tenure as Revenue Minister handling the disaster management portfolio.

Power problems

“Considering the potential of the project to minimise loss of lives, it has to be taken up with urgency. I am confident of working out a solution to the issue,” he said.

SDMA officials said a proposal to provide power supply to the police outpost at Mullaperiyar was also held up by the Forest Department. The authority had mooted the proposal to ensure better facilities for the policemen who are to issue early warnings in case of a disaster triggered by the dam.

The proposed surveillance system would also need continuous power to charge the batteries that keep the cameras running and provide video images to monitoring agencies.

But the cables could not be laid as Forest officials objected to the digging of trenches without mandatory clearance from the Supreme Court and MoEF.

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