A response to Durai Murugan's article “Unwarranted fears on Mullaiperiyar.”

Having read Durai Murugan's rejoinder (Dec. 31) to my article on the Mullaperiyar, or Mullaiperiyar, controversy (Dec. 29), I would have preferred to leave it to the readers to come to their own conclusions. However, as Mr. Murugan has specifically referred to me several times, replies to some points become unavoidable.

(1) “The waters are not exclusively Kerala's, but an inter-State resource governed by the principles of inter-State rivers.” Periyar is not an inter-State river. It is a Kerala river, partly diverted by human action to Tamil Nadu.

(2) ‘Rights': Tamil Nadu's rights in this case are not riparian rights as in the Cauvery case, but arise out of an agreement. Under the agreement, Travancore (now Kerala) had agreed to share its waters with Madras (now Tamil Nadu). This is somewhat unusual, as States are generally reluctant to share their waters with other States. One wishes that Mr. Murugan had expressed some appreciation of this fact.

(3) “Mullaiperiyar per se is not an emotive or political issue in Tamil Nadu”: It is difficult to accept that statement.

(4) If all talks so far have failed, both sides must accept responsibility. I can only say: please hold more talks. Agreement, not confrontation, is the only way to resolve the issue.

(5) I have not questioned the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court at all. I am only asking whether dam safety is a fit subject for judicial determination. If there are divergent expert opinions, can the Supreme Court uphold one opinion as right? That is not a rhetorical question, but one on which I am bewildered and would like to be enlightened.

(6) I respect the Central Water Commission, and I respect the experts who are members of the Empowered Committee. However, if, say, a group of experts from the IITs were to express a different view, what does one do? That is why I am suggesting a joint determination by the two governments with expert assistance.

(7) Political statements may have aggravated the fears of the people in Kerala, but I cannot agree that the fears are wholly imaginary or ‘manufactured.' (Incidentally, the government of India might say that the experts have pronounced Kudankulam safe and that the local people's fears are wholly imaginary: should one accept that?)

(8) The need for strengthening the dam: there is no disagreement on this between Mr. Murugan and myself. Mr. Murugan complains of the absence of cooperation on this matter by the Kerala government. I cannot comment on this because I do not know what Kerala has to say.

(9)The alleged unfairness of the 1886 agreement: The Kerala government may or may not have raised it officially, but the sense of grievance is indeed pervasive. Are there grounds for that feeling? I don't know, but consider the following: the unusual agreement of Travancore State to divert a part of one of its rivers to Madras Presidency; the leasing of 8,000 acres of its territory to that Presidency; an extraordinary lease of 999 years; and for all these concessions, a negligible quid pro quo. One can only say that the Maharaja must have been unwise or exceptionally generous or under pressure from the British government.

(10) “The latest slogan, ‘Water for Tamil Nadu, Safety for Kerala,' is just a deception”: Far from being a deception, it seems to me the only basis for a settlement of this issue. (By the way, “safety for Kerala” will also benefit Tamil Nadu: if, hypothetically speaking, the dam were to burst, waters will cease to flow to Tamil Nadu.)

(11) “Will not a strong earthquake pull down the Idukki dam?”: Possibly. What does this prove? Both Mullaperiyar and Idukki exist and all that one can do is to take adequate safety measures.

(12) “Another suggestion by Mr. Iyer that hurt me immensely is that Tamil Nadu should minimise…[its] dependence on the waters of the Mullaiperiyar dam.” As the 116-year-old dam may not last forever, I have suggested advance contingency planning. Why should this hurt anyone?

(13) “All those who want the dam to be decommissioned or its water level brought down to 120 feet should read the life history of Major John Pennycuick…” (a) I have not said “decommission the dam now”; I have only said that as the dam is nearing the end of its useful life, it will have to be gradually phased out over a period of time. (b) I have not made specific recommendations such as a water-level of 120 feet; I have said that the two governments should agree on a safe level, whatever it may be. (c) Pennycuick may have meant well and may have been deified, but that does not mean that the project was a good one. Incidentally, should all the credit for the diversion be given to Pennycuick and none to the Maharaja who agreed to it?

(14) Finally, if Mr. Murugan were to re-read my article with an open mind, he may find that it is not so bad after all. I took enormous pains to make it fair and balanced, and am deeply disappointed at Mr. Murugan's negative reading of it.

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