Achuthanandan pins his hopes on talks

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SPOT STUDY: Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and his Cabinet colleagues visit the Mullaperiyar dam on Saturday. Photo: K.K. Mustafah
SPOT STUDY: Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and his Cabinet colleagues visit the Mullaperiyar dam on Saturday. Photo: K.K. Mustafah

K.P.M. Basheer

Chief Minister says raising the water level in Mullaperiyar is no solution

THEKKADY: Putting high hopes on his November 29 talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on the Mullaperiyar water level, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said inter-State water disputes could be resolved only through talks.

He told a news conference here after visiting the dam on Saturday that the entire State was looking forward to the outcome of the talks.

Signifying the importance his Government attached to the issue, the Chief Minister, along with the three other members of the Cabinet committee on Mullaperiyar, visited the dam on Saturday morning following an alarming rise in the reservoir's water level that caused widespread panic in the region. He is the first Kerala Chief Minister ever to visit the 111-year-old masonry located close to Kerala's border with Tamil Nadu. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran and Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran and a lot of Government officials accompanied the Chief Minister.

The talks between the two Chief Ministers will be held in New Delhi in the presence of Union Minister for Water Resources Saifuddin Soz. "Our minds and bodies are focussed on finding a solution to the Mullaperiyar issue at the negotiating table," Mr. Achuthanandan said. "However, we strongly believe that raising the dam's height [water level], as has been sought by Tamil Nadu, is not the solution." The solution, in his view, lay in ensuring water supply to Tamil Nadu without putting the old dam in danger and without risking the lives of thousands of people living downstream. A solution should be found without raising the water level beyond 136 feet (set by a law enacted by the Kerala Assembly), he said.

When mediapersons asked him what Kerala would do if Tamil Nadu did not budge from its demand to raise the water level to 142 feet at the November 29 talks, Mr. Achuthanandan said: "Let's see if it comes to that."

On court orders

Mr. Achuthanandan said the Supreme Court had "in its latest judgment" wanted the two States to sort out the issue amicably through talks. Since only the last pronouncement of a court mattered, the "previous judgments" (meaning the verdict that allowed a Tamil Nadu plea to raise the dam's height so that it could draw more water from the reservoir) were "not valid."

Referring to the heavy damage to the National Highway at Iraichipalam across the border, Mr. Achuthanandan said it indicated what could happen when the water level rose in the reservoir. "Had this been on this side (of the border), 35 lakh dead bodies would have been washed off into the Arabian Sea." This was a "test dose" of the court's permission to Tamil Nadu to raise the water level, he added.

A number of senior officials accompanied the Chief Minister's visit to the dam. They explained to him how increasing the water level would be disastrous. Two Tamil Nadu officials, the dam's superintendent Sundarrajan and executive engineer of the Periyar project Bhaskaran, briefed the Chief Minister on the works carried out by their Government to strengthen the dam.

Mr. Sundarrajan and Mr. Bhaskaran told The Hindu that the dam was absolutely safe and that raising the water level would not cause any harm to anybody.

The water level in the reservoir had risen to 139 feet in the past days, causing panic in the region as it was feared that the dam would burst resulting in huge loss of lives and assets in the region.

Meanwhile, the water level in the reservoir came down slightly, to 138.5 feet on Saturday.

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