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Monday 19 December 2011

CONTROVERSY Rising resentment

Rising resentment
in Chennai
Tamil Nadu sticks to its contention that the Mullaperiyar dam is safe and the construction of a new dam is unwarranted.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
THE Tamil Nadu government's display of calm confidence in its stand-off with Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam issue is in sharp contrast to the anger among farmers in Madurai, Virudhunagar, Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga districts over what they see as Kerala's attempts to precipitate matters on the issue.
On December 3, Youth Congress volunteers in Kerala marched to the Mullaperiyar dam and the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board office there. The next day, several hundred workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marched to the dam, with an earth mover in tow, and tried to open a channel at the baby dam.
On December 4, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking for the immediate “deployment of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at the dam site to avert any man-made catastrophic consequences”. Apart from the “mob vandalism” at the dam site, “the orchestrated campaign of fear-mongering” by the Kerala government “has led to this situation wherein the very security and safety of the dam is being deliberately threatened”, Jayalalithaa said. Her demand for CISF protection met with favour among many political parties in Tamil Nadu.
The sporadic attacks on Tamils in Kumili and other parts of Kerala led to retaliation in Tamil Nadu. In a statement issued on December 6, Jayalalithaa said: “There is no justification whatsoever to believe that the Mullaperiyar dam is unsafe or likely to collapse, bringing a deluge upon Idukki and surrounding districts. The dam is well maintained and periodically reinforced. Its safety is being constantly monitored, and highly qualified and accomplished technical experts, including those nominated by the Supreme Court of India, have repeatedly reiterated that it is absolutely safe. To doubt its safety merely because it is 116 years old is sheer ignorance. Kallanai, or the Grand Anicut dam, widely considered to be the oldest dam in the world, built by Karikala Cholan over the river Cauvery, still stands in Tamil Nadu. Built in the second century A.D., it is all of 1,900 years old and absolutely safe…. There is, therefore, no necessity to dismiss the Mullaperiyar dam as a primitive construction or fear that it would self-destruct due to old age.”
Tamil Nadu's stand is that the dam is perfectly safe and there is no need for a new dam. Jayalalithaa had pointed out in a letter to the Prime Minister on November 23 that when the Kerala government raised the issue of the dam's safety in 1979, K.C. Thomas, the then Chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC), who inspected the dam, had concluded that there was no danger to the dam. He had suggested certain strengthening measures, which were done by the Tamil Nadu government from 1980 to 1994, with the concurrence of the Kerala government. “After taking all these measures, the dam is safe and its functioning is as good as that of a new dam,” Jayalalithaa had asserted.
She said that the Mullaperiyar dam, falling in seismic zone III, was designed to withstand an earthquake as per the Indian Standards (I.S.) code. “The reported tremor, which occurred on November 18, 2011, did not even have an iota of impact on the dam. In fact, the tremor was not even felt in the vicinity of the dam,” the Chief Minister said. “The Empowered Committee, constituted as per the orders of the Supreme Court, has conducted and is still conducting various tests/studies on the dam and there has been no adverse remark,” she said.
In another letter to Manmohan Singh on November 29, Jayalalithaa alleged that the Kerala government was continuing its “shrill pitch”. She noted: “I am of the view that the Government of Kerala should be advised to desist from this approach for building a new dam and not to escalate the issue when the matter is subjudice before the Supreme Court and the Empowered Committee.”
Earlier the State's PWD Minister K.V. Ramalingam emphasised that it was “safe to increase the water level of the dam”. It will benefit a large number of farmers in Tamil Nadu…. We will stick to our stand of increasing the water level of the dam and oppose the construction of a new dam,” he said.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu and the government see Kerala's offer to build a new dam as a ruse to take full control of the dam and put their State at Kerala's mercy. The existing dam, situated in Kerala, is under the administrative control of the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department (PWD), which operates and maintains it.
Political parties in the State are also unhappy that Kerala is not prepared to wait for the Empowered Committee's report, expected in February 2012, on the dam's safety and related issues. The committee is headed by A.S. Anand, former Chief Justice of India.

A PROTEST IN Tuticorin against the Kerala government's stand on the Mullaperiyar issue on December 8.
Farmers and political parties in the State also criticise Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's demand that the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam be reduced to 120 ft. A Supreme Court's ruling in 2006 had permitted Tamil Nadu to raise the water level to 142 ft, or 43m. (The full reservoir level is 152 ft, or 46.32m).
Members of Parliament belonging to the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), in a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister on December 2, asserted that the Kerala government's statements that 22 tremors had occurred in the last four months in Idukki and adjoining districts “are blatantly false”. “In fact, there have been only four mild tremors in the current year as per the IMD [India Meteorological Department] data,” they said. These occurred on July 26 (two tremors) and November 18 and 25 in Idukki and Kottayam districts. The Kerala government's “recent actions in raising the bogey of dam safety, on the basis of fear psychosis, appear to be an attempt to influence the Empowered Committee,” they argued.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said even before the Empowered Committee, which had representatives from both States, gave its report, Kerala was being hasty. While Tamil Nadu was being reasonable, Kerala was adamant about building a new dam, he said. Karunanidhi said the DMK had written a letter to Justice Anand asking him not to accept Kerala's demand that the water level be reduced to 120 ft and, instead, to implement the Supreme Court's order of February 2006.
Vijayakant, the Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK) founder, said that Kerala had violated the Supreme Court's 2006 order by enacting the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act in March 2006. In a statement on December 2, he said: “The Kerala government is now deliberately making noise that the dam is about to burst and that if that happens, several lakhs of people will die. It does so because it fears that the report [of the Empowered Committee] may conclude that the dam is safe and is impervious to earthquakes…. Kerala's statements that it will provide water to Tamil Nadu are false. Like Karnataka, it will say that water will be provided only when it rains.”
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr S. Ramadoss argued that the issue at stake was not related to building a new dam but raising the water level to 142 ft as per the Supreme Court's ruling.
The Mullaperiyar dam, he said, had a unique design and water from it could be released to Tamil Nadu only when its water level went above a certain height. If a new dam were to be built at a site below the existing one, Kerala would not be able to let out water to Tamil Nadu even if it wanted to. “The entire water coming to Mullaperiyar will be diverted to Idukki for Kerala's use.
Besides, Kerala will have the right to maintain the new dam. So Tamil Nadu will not receive water from Mullaperiyar, and the six districts in the State, which are dependent on the dam's waters, will be parched,” argued Ramadoss.
The PMK founder blamed the AIADMK and DMK governments for messing up the issue. The dispute would not have arisen if the AIADMK government had heeded the Supreme Court order in 2006 he said. The DMK, which came to power later, also adopted “a soft approach” and considered Kerala as a fraternal State, Ramadoss said.
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko, in a memorandum to the Prime Minister, alleged that Kerala was creating “panic and fear psychosis” amongst the people of Kerala and wanted the Centre to take urgent steps to prevent the construction of a new dam.
The DMK, the PMK, the DMDK and the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) wanted the Centre to act impartially in the dispute, alleging that its indifference had cost Tamil Nadu dear. Karunanidhi alleged that neither the Kerala government nor the Centre had stepped in to stop the violence against Tamils in Kerala.
The release of a film, Dam 999, portraying a weak dam's collapse and the resultant loss of thousands of lives had inflamed passions. The screening of the film, directed by Sohan Roy from Kerala, was banned by the Tamil Nadu government on November 24.

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