Kerala walks US e-auction to add teeth to Mullaperiyar case

Written by Economy Bureau | Thiruvananthapuram, Mar 4 | Updated: Mar 5 2008, 06:36am hrs
The Kerala government has laid its hands on an old book, counted to be new evidence to reinforce its clamour for a new dam to replace the 113-year old Mullaperiyar dam. The book - `History of Periyar Project'- was wrapped up, through an apparant proxy-bid at an e-auction in the US.

"We will not hesitate to use the historical details in the book in the Supreme Court, if they are supportive, to add credence to the Kerala case," state irrigation minister NK Premachandran told FE. "State is awaiting its arrival by mail," he said.

The book was authored by AT McKinsey who was an executive engineer of the Mullaperiyar dam project, more than hundred years ago. It is said to contain details on the construction process with earliest pictures of dam. Written in 1888, `History of Periyar Project' was first published in 1889.

In the Mullaperiyar dam dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Kerala has been raising apprehensions that the century-old dam is unsafe and that the recent tremors in the area may soon snowball into a disaster that affects property and 35 lakh lives in five districts. Tamil Nadu, which runs the dam situated in Kerala territory, argues otherwise. It is the irrigation concerns, if the existing dam is dismantled, that worries Tamil Nadu government.

Kerala's NRI diaspora played a useful role in identifying the private owner of the book. It is an engineer in Kerala State Electricity Board who participated in the e-auction in US, who managed to get the book for the state government. At first, the copy offered for internet auction was verified with a 1962-edition preserved in University of Michigan.

Officials in Kerala government claim that Tamil Nadu government already has a copy of the book and is reluctant to share it with the neigbouring state.

Despite the bidding involved, the potentially valuable book came cheap at just $200, paltry compared to the Rs 216 crore that Kerala estimates to invest on building the new dam. And the first publisher in 1889 - unsuspecting of its future value to two Indian states yet to born then - had priced it a then-not-so-modest Rs 20 per copy.