Mullaperiyar Dam Still creates Tensions
Recently the supreme court directed that the maximum water level in Mullaperiyar Dam should be 139.50 ft until November 10. The direction came after the Supreme Court constituted a Supervisory Committee to issue directions on issues concerning a dam safety. The dam is a source of friction between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. For Kerala, where it is situated, the dam presents a threat to lakhs living downstream; and for Tamil Nadu which controls the dam, the water it provides is the lifeline of people in 5 districts.
An 1886 lease indenture for 999 years (the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement) was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of State for the Periyar irrigation works. Constructed between 1887 and 1895, the dam redirected the river to flow towards the Bay of Bengal, instead of the Arabian Sea and provide water to the arid rain region of Madurai in Madras Presidency. Safety concerns around the dam rose when media reported it was unsafe. Tamil Nadu witnessed public agitations demanding that the levels be increased; Kerala opposed the demand over the years, both the state governments approached the court following which a committee was set up to resolve the issue but came back to square one with limited results from both the sides.
The recent dispute is the unusual rains in the last couple of weeks which led to the water level inching towards its permissible level of 142 ft allowed by the Supreme Court in 2014. Kerala has been demanding a new dam replacing the existing one. Such a project would require the consent of Tamil Nadu and also give rise to a power demand for a new water sharing treaty; at present only Tamil Nadu has rights over the dam water. The 126-year old dispute needs to be resolved. Kerala and Tamil Nadu must come into mutual terms and think about the people of the country at large.