Incident gains significance in wake of Kerala move for dam across Siruvani

Three officials from the Water Resource Organisation (WRO) of the Public Works Department of Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore, who were on a routine inspection of the catchment of the Bhavani river basin, were intercepted by villagers near Agali in Kerala.

The incident gains significance in the wake of Kerala’s move to construct a dam across the Siruvani river near Attappady and the growing opposition to the plan in Tamil Nadu.

The incident took place on Wednesday afternoon at Kozhikadavu, about 20 km from Anaikatti on the Tamil Nadu border.

According to sources, Chief Engineer of the WRO K. Ranganathan, along with Assistant Executive Engineers S. Sivalingam and S. Kumarasamy, took up the inspection of the catchment as is done before monsoon.

The team that entered Kerala via Anaikatti and visited the office of the Executive Engineer, Bhavani basin, of the Kerala Irrigation Department at Kozhikadavu. On knowing that the Executive Engineer had gone to Thiruvananthapuram, the Tamil Nadu officials informed the staff there and continued with their inspection.

Trouble erupted when a group of people stopped their vehicle carrying the Government of Tamil Nadu sticker and a covered revolving beacon light, and questioned the officials on what brought them there.

The officials explained that they were on a routine inspection. Soon, the crowd started swelling and it was about to turn into an unruly mob, the sources said.

A Sub-Inspector of Police from Kerala reached the spot and defused the situation. PWD sources said that the public who opposed the entry of the officials had apprehensions that the officials from Tamil Nadu could do something that would hamper the prospects of the dam.

The public also told the officials that the dam under the AVIP was about to materialise after three decades and they never wanted any hurdle.

The Tamil Nadu officials explained that their inspection had nothing to do with the proposed dam, but this failed to ease the situation.

Considering the turbulent situation, the officials offered to go back to Coimbatore as desired by the people.

The people told the officials from Tamil Nadu that they should visit only with the knowledge of the Government of Kerala represented by the Palakkad District Collector.

The police advised the officials to come with prior permission/intimation so that their protection could be ensured, the sources said.

The officials gave up their inspection plan and started their journey back to Coimbatore. The public too turned friendly and went to the extent of compelling the officials to have lunch or at least tea before leaving for Coimbatore the sources said.

When contacted, the PWD officials said that they were barred from entering the area but there was “no detention or wrongful confinement as is being rumoured”.

The Kerala project envisages the construction of a 450 m long masonry gravity dam at Chittur across the Siruvani in Palakkad. Kerala Water Resources Minister P.J. Joseph announced in the Assembly last June that the Attappady Valley Irrigation Project (AVIP), on hold for three decades, would be revived to provide drinking and irrigation water to water-starved Attappady.

A resolution moved by the District Panchayat stated that the implementation of the project was essential to utilise Kerala’s share of 6 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) water awarded by the Cauvery Tribunal.