A reply to rejoinders by Ramaswamy R. Iyer and N.K. Premachandran.
I am forced to respond to two rejoinders to my article, “Unwarranted fears on Mullaiperiyar” (published in The Hindu on December 31, 2011), one of them by Ramaswamy R. Iyer (January 2, 2012) and the other by a friend and an esteemed former Kerala Minister, N.K. Premachandran (January 3), as I found some factual errors, and statements that are far from the truth.
To Mr. Iyer's averment that “Periyar is not an inter-State river,” I would like to point out that a river whose catchment lies in more than one State is an inter-State river. As per the Water Atlas of Kerala (1995), published by Kerala's own Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, of the 5,398-sq km of the catchment of Mullaiperiyar, 114 sq km is in Tamil Nadu.
When it comes to “rights,” Tamil Nadu has the right to maintain the dam and also draw water under the lease agreement, whether Mr. Iyer agrees on that or not. Besides, Tamil Nadu has usage rights over the waters as its usage period exceeds a century: this is an internationally accepted principle on water-sharing.
The “sense of grievance” over the alleged unfairness over the 1886 agreement between the Maharaja of Travancore and the British government in India that Mr. Iyer finds to be “pervasive,” is baseless since the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments ratified the original agreement and also entered into a supplementary agreement in 1970 as equal States. This agreement was not a colonial trick, but an attempt at mutual cooperation between the States, initiated by democratically elected eminent leaders.
In fact, the very idea behind my writing to The Hindu was to bring out the simple fact that Tamil Nadu is truly concerned about the safety of the dam and has been investing huge resources not just to strengthen the dam but to create a structure that is as good as a new one. It was in that context that I said that Kerala was physically preventing Tamil Nadu from undertaking work on strengthening it. Mr. Premachandran conveniently ignores it, while Mr. Iyer callously says he has nothing to say on that.
Mr. Premachandran's claim that Kerala “has always respected the judiciary and unflinchingly abided by its verdicts,” is far from the truth. The entire world knows that Kerala amended its Act to circumvent the Supreme Court's 2006 verdict, which allowed an increase in the storage level to 142 ft initially and 152 ft finally after completion of the strengthening process. While ordering status quo, the Supreme Court Bench made it clear that there “would be no impediment for Tamil Nadu to carry out maintenance and repairs for upkeep” of the dam.
But the Kerala Forest Department foisted criminal cases against Tamil Nadu's engineers who went there to carry out regular maintenance work. Mr. Premachandran has also conveniently forgotten the fact that the finding of a Professor at IIT Delhi that the dam was hydrologically unsafe was categorically rejected by the Union Water Resources Ministry, which said “the findings did not appear well founded.”
Mr. Iyer's philosophical statement, “if, hypothetically speaking, the dam were to burst, waters will cease to flow to Tamil Nadu,” holds no water as no gravity dam has burst anywhere in the world. If at all there is a risk of a dam-burst in Kerala, it is with the Idukki dam, which is an arch-dam.
To Mr. Iyer's question, “should all the credit for diversion be given to Pennycuick and none to the Maharaja who agreed to it?”, my reply is: Yes, we bow our heads in reverence to the Maharaja of Travancore, Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma, too. In fact, during the discussions with Pennycuick from 1862 onwards, the Maharaja was for a joint venture with the profit accrued from the revenue to be shared on agreed basis. But later he pulled out and preferred to accept lease rent for the land submerged, which only goes to prove that the King did not sign the agreement under any duress. Today, it is Kerala that is refusing to acknowledge the Maharaja's wisdom and vision in protecting his people from the annual floods in the Periyar — and getting some income by leasing a piece of land that was lying waste between hills.
The dam tamed so effectively the roguish river that was causing devastation before flowing into the Arabian Sea, that the Maharaja approached the British government to build another dam in southern Travancore, where the Kodaiyar was wreaking havoc in Nanjilnadu, the southern rice bowl of his kingdom. It was that effort that led to the construction of the Pechiparai dam, which now stands tall, even a hundred years later, in Kanyakumari district that was acceded to Tamil Nadu during the reorganisation of States. In the same reorganisation process, had Peermedu and Devikulam taluks of Idukki district been acceded to Tamil Nadu, perhaps I would not have been writing this now.
Finally, to allay Mr. Premachandran's fear of the Idukki dam bursting in the (imaginary) event of the Mullaiperiyar dam giving way, I have a piece of advice for Kerala: Please keep the storage level [in the Idukki dam] a little low. After all, the Idukki water goes waste, flowing into the Arabian Sea.