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Monday, 12 December 2011

DMK does an Anna, fasts for Mullaperiyar dam

Chennai:  The DMK is doing an Anna Hazare today. Led by former deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, party leaders are holding a one-day fast in all towns and districts of the state to draw the attention of the Centre and neighbouring Kerala on the Mullaperiyar dam issue.

The dam is in Kerala and that state wants to demolish it on safety concerns. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has convened a special assembly session on December 15 to discuss the matter, a key issue for her state, which depends on the dam for irrigation water. The Tamil Nadu Assembly is expected to pass a resolution that the state will not give up rights because of what it calls an imaginary threat.

The border that the two states share has seen protests from both sides; there have been reports of vandalism. On Sunday, slippers were reportedly thrown at Tamil Nadu's Finance Minister O Panneerselvam in the border area as he tried to address protesters. A lathicharge followed and many people were reportedly injured. Ms Jayalalithaa has appealed for calm and has asked people on the border to disperse.

The DMK has now joined in to add political pressure. Former chief minister M Karunanidhi, Mr Stalin's father, has criticised the Centre for its silence and has come down heavily on Kerala for defying Supreme Court orders on the 116-year-old dam, that has been a festering issue between the two southern states and has of late erupted again. The DMK's Khushboo said, "This fasting is for the Mullaperiyar Dam. We want to send across a message that Mullaperiyar is safe. We are equally concerned for people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu...Let the governments take a decision...Safety of people at the border is important."

Tamil Nadu has rights over the waters of the Mullaperiyar Dam for 999 years - it was built by India's British rulers to irrigate the drought-prone southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Kerala says it fears that if the dam breaches, it would kill four million people living downstream. Tamil Nadu says there is absolutely no need as the dam has been strengthened periodically and is safe and strong.

Five years ago the Supreme Court had found the dam to be strong and had directed Kerala to raise storage to 142 feet. Kerala passed a law instead to bring down storage to 120 feet. The Supreme Court has appointed an empowered committee that will assess the strength of the dam again and report to the court.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear three applications from the two states over the dam issue.

The history of the dispute

The Mullaperiyar dam was built in 1895 in Kerala on the River Mullayar and its tributary, the Periyar. The water is diverted eastwards to service farmers in Tamil Nadu. Kerala has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the fact that all benefits from the dam accrue to Tamil Nadu. But its over-whelming concern is about whether the dam is safe.

Kerala claims the old construction and the fact that the dam is in an earthquake-prone zone merit bringing down the existing structure and rebuilding it. The first time that Kerala claimed the dam was dangerous was in 1979, when it developed leaks following an earthquake. In Idukki, where the dam is located, a series of quakes - the area has seen 20 since July this year - have added to the concern among the three million residents of districts like Alappuzha and Ernakulam. These earthquakes have measured between 2.8 and 3.4 on the Richter scale. The dam's structural safety was also been questioned earlier in 2008 by experts from IIT Roorkee suggesting that it may not be able to withstand a quake measuring more than 6.4.  

Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, wants to raise the storage level for the water in the dam. It accuses Kerala of stirring up panic to curtail Tamil Nadu's share of water. The dispute between the two states moved into the Supreme Court and in 2006 the apex court directed the water level be raised upto 142 feet from 136. But Kerala government brought a law to negate the order. The Tamil Nadu government challenged the Kerala law in Supreme Court, which has now appointed the panel to examine issues of safety and the need for a new dam.

Ms Jayalalitha has sought the Centre's intervention, requesting him to advise Kerala, which his party the Congress rules, not to "precipitate matters" since the Supreme Court is involved in deciding the future of the dam, and how much water it should hold.


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