: Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former Union Water Resources Secretary and the architect of the country's first National Water Policy, has termed irrelevant to the present debate over the Mullaperiyar Dam former Tamil Nadu Water Resources Minister Durai Murugan's claim that Mullaperiyar is an inter-State river.
“To say that Periyar is an inter-State river because a tiny part of the catchment is in Tamil Nadu (TN) is no more than a debating point. First, Periyar flows entirely in Kerala; no part of the river flows through Tamil Nadu. Even after the construction of the dam, it is not the river that flows through Tamil Nadu, but a part of its waters through a tunnel and canals. Secondly, granting that a tiny part of its catchment lies in Tamil Nadu and that this makes the river an inter-State river in law, how is that relevant to the present dispute? That tiny part may have riparian claims on Periyar waters but we are not talking about that part. We are talking about the Vaigai Basin which is not a part of the Periyar basin at all and receives Periyar waters through a long-distance inter-basin water transfer,” Mr. Iyer said in reply to questions from The Hindu by e-mail on Friday.
Mr. Iyer pointed out that the rights of this area to Periyar waters were not riparian rights but rights arising from the 1886 agreement and from the principle of long-established use. “The dispute is about the water claims of this area vis-a-vis the Kerala concerns about the safety of the dam. Can this be regarded as an inter-State river water dispute within the ambit of Article 262 of the Constitution and the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act 1956/2002? I doubt it. If that is the contention, it will have to be legally argued and established. In any case, Tamil Nadu has not invoked that Article or the ISWD Act, but has gone to the Supreme Court, presumably under Article 131 which is about inter-State disputes in general,” he said.
On the former Tamil Nadu Minister's claim that no gravity dam has burst anywhere in the world, Mr. Iyer said this was also a point of debate. “Granting that gravity dams don't collapse, does it follow that safety considerations are irrelevant? Can't a gravity dam become unsafe without necessarily collapsing? Are gravity dams by definition safe? If so, why have so many committees considered the safety of Mullapperiyar? Why was an expert panel asked to examine the matter and report? That panel may have said that the dam is safe, but wasn't there a theoretical possibility that it could have said the opposite? If safety considerations do arise even in the case of a gravity dam, then the question as to how much water it can safely store is not a meaningless one. Why else was it decided at one stage to restrict the storage to 136 ft,” he asked and added that his point was that the safety of the dam was important not only from Kerala's point of view but also from that of Tamil Nadu. “I maintain that point,” he said citing articles and responses published in The Hindu about the Mullaperiyar issue (Two States and a water issue, Ramaswamy R. Iyer, December 29, 2011; Unwarranted fears on Mullaiperiyar, Durai Murugan, December 31, 2011; Safety will benefit Tamil Nadu, Ramaswamy R. Iyer, January 2, 2012; The case for a new Mullaperiyar dam, N. K. Premachandran, January . 3, 2012; Periyar is an inter-State river, Durai Murugan, January 4, 2012).
He refused to join issue with Mr. Durai Murugan for his statement that “if at all there is a risk of a dam-burst in Kerala, it is with the Idukki dam, which is an arch-dam.” He demanded to know why the Idukki Dam should be discussed in this context and added, “I refuse to get distracted by red herrings.” On the former Minister terming baseless his observation that there was a pervasive sense of grievance over the unfairness of the 1886 agreement between the Maharaja of Travancore and the British Government in India, Mr. Iyer said that if the grievance about the old agreement was unwarranted, it must be dispelled by careful elucidation and not dismissed or derided as wholly ‘manufactured'. “Was the 1886 agreement in fact signed under pressure? I don't know. This is a matter for historical and documentary research. However, when one considers the extraordinary nature of the agreement, it becomes very difficult to understand why such an agreement was signed by the Maharaja. Was it a wise and generous gesture on his part? I am sceptical of that explanation. I will leave it to the readers to ponder over this,” he said and added, “I am very disappointed that my plea, which was essentially for an amicable settlement, has been responded to by Mr. Durai Murugan in a self-righteous tone and with debating points,” he said. He refused to comment on Oommen Chandy's offer of joint management of the new dam proposed to be constructed as he had already clearly expressed himself against constructing a new dam. “As I have clearly said ‘Don't build a new dam', I have no comments on the question of its management,” he said.