Mullaperiyar dam row: Why a government order has triggered a political storm in Kerala

By: |
November 09, 2021 5:14 PM

The Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala was built across the Periyar River following the Periyar lake lease agreement between Travancore and the Secretary of State for India in 1886.

The Mullaperiyar dam has been a bone of contention between the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The Kerala government today submitted its reply before the Supreme Court seeking reconsideration of the rule curve prepared by Tamil Nadu to reckon the water level at Mullaperiyar Dam. The Kerala government made the submission through a reply affidavit filed in compliance with the top court’s order dated October 28. The Kerala government also submitted that the only permanent solution for removing the eternal threat related to safety of the dam is to build a new dam downstream. It contended that the new dam will also help in ensuring the safety of the lakhs of people living downstream of Mullaperiyar dam. It also submitted that a high water level will affect the already filled Idukki reservoir.

The Mullaperiyar dam has been a bone of contention between the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The recent controversy broke out over the water level of the dam and a recent order by the Kerala government granting Tamil Nadu permission to cut some trees near the dam.

Yesterday, Tamil Nadu water resources minister Durai Murugan said that the water level at Mullaperiyar dam would be increased to 142 feet by November 30. The Supreme Court of India had asked the Tamil Nadu government to maintain the dam’s water level to 142 feet. Murugan had earlier claimed that the state will raise the water level to 152 feet after strengthening the baby dam.

On the other hand, the Kerala government has revoked its order permitting Tamil Nadu to cut 15 trees to strengthen the baby dam in Mullaperiyar. The order had created a political storm. Kerala state forest minister AK Saseendran had said that permission was “granted by mistake”. He added that action will be taken against the concerned officials.

While the Kerala minister said he was not aware of how the order was released, the issue came to the public after Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin wrote to Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan thanking him for the permission to cut trees near the baby dam in Mullaperiyar reservoir. There have already been protests with regards to Tamil Nadu’s decision to raise the water level of the dam.

Yesterday, the Kerala Assembly witnessed noisy scenes over the order. The opposition UDF demanded a judicial probe into the issue and staged a walkout. In Tamil Nadu, opposition parties AIADMK and BJP have also been targeting the ruling DMK over the Mullaperiyar issue.

The Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala was built across the Periyar River following the Periyar lake lease agreement between Travancore and the Secretary of State for India in 1886. The lease period is 999 years. The dam’s construction took eight years, faced several challenges and was completed in 1895. The water supply from the dam, which is owned and operated by the Tamil Nadu government, serves as the lifeline of people in southern TN.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads for over two decades with regards to the water level of the 126-year-old dam. The Kerala government wants the water level to be kept at 138 feet and build a new dam while the Tamil Nadu government wants to keep the water level at 152 feet claiming that the dam is strong enough to withstand any pressure.

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