Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin objects to Union government considering Kerala’s proposal of new dam in Mullaperiyar

Stalin said the proposal for constructing a new dam by Kerala, in lieu of the existing dam, was against the directions of the Supreme Court.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 24, 2024 | 6:48 PMUpdatedMay 25, 2024 | 2:01 PM

Mullaperiyar dam

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin wrote to Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav and objected to the Union government considering the Kerala government’s proposal of building a new dam in Mullaperiyar.

Stalin said the proposal for constructing a new dam by Kerala, purportedly in lieu of the existing Mullaperiyar Dam, was against the directions of the Supreme Court.

He sought the intervention of the Union minister in the matter and urged to drop the discussion on the proposed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) during the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) meeting on 28 May.

The Irrigation Design & Research Board (IDRB) of the Kerala government had proposed an EIA to study the feasibility of constructing a new dam in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Idukki district citing that the existing dam was unsafe.

Also Read: Kerala government advocates new dam in Mullaperiyar to ensure safety of people

‘Repeatedly found to be safe’

Stalin said that the dam was safe and dismissed the concerns raised by the Kerala government

“The existing dam has been repeatedly found to be safe in all aspects by various Expert Committees and has been ruled so by the Supreme Court in its judgments dated 27.02.2006 and 07.05.2014,” Stalin said.

He said that a 2018 Supreme Court ruling mandates that any step towards building a new dam in Mullaperiyar would require the top court’s permission.

“Therefore, the current act of Kerala’s IDRB taking up an EIA study for a new dam as well as EAC considering the request for permission to take up the above study would definitely be in contempt of the orders passed by the Supreme Court,” Stalin said.

He said that the Tamil Nadu government intended to take strong legal action, including contempt petitions if the various stakeholders in this issue do not adhere to the earlier orders of the Supreme Court.

Kerala government’s claim

The Kerala government had said on 25 January, that constructing a new dam to replace the existing 128-year-old structure on the Mullaperiyar river is the only solution to ensure the safety of the lakhs of people living downstream.

Though owned, operated, and maintained by Tamil Nadu, the dam is situated in the upper reaches of Kerala’s Idukki district. Water from the reservoir is diverted through tunnels to the arid southern districts of Tamil Nadu.

The announcement was part of the customary policy address of his government in the state Assembly by Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

Also Read: Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church raises concerns over Mullaperiyar dam

‘New dam is the only solution’

“My government is of the view that the construction of a new dam, conforming to recent standards of design and construction, in the downstream reaches of the existing Mullaperiyar Dam is the only solution for protecting the safety of lakhs of people living downstream,” the policy address read.

It said the dam’s front and rear faces are constructed of uncoursed rubble masonry in lime mortar and the central core is constructed with lime-surkhi concrete — a mixture of burnt brick powder, sand, and sugar.

People in Idukki have often raised concerns over the dam, noting that any breach — like the recent instances in Libya and Sikkim — would cause grave damage and fatalities downstream.

“Taking into account the excessive and erratic rainfall and floods during the monsoon seasons in 2018-2021, particularly in Idukki district, the only solution lies in constructing a new dam which assures water to Tamil Nadu and safety to the people of Kerala living in the downstream region,” it said.

Also Read: Kerala mulls tourism township in ecologically fragile Idukki with UAE funds

‘Will take all possible steps’

The policy address said Kerala has expressed this view in all related forums and will take all possible steps for an amicable settlement with Tamil Nadu.

While Tamil Nadu has been maintaining that the dam was “absolutely safe”, Kerala has been vociferous in its demand for a new dam to be built near the existing structure.

In an unprecedented move which also indicated his displeasure with the ruling Left front in the state, Governor Khan on Thursday quickly concluded the government’s customary policy address in the Assembly by only reading out its last paragraph.

Also Read: Kerala Governor Khan cuts short policy speech, reads last para and leaves

The dam and the inter-state conflict

Commissioned in 1895, Mullaperiyar Dam meets the drinking water requirements of the Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu, apart from irrigating 2.19 lakh acres.

Mullaperiyar Dam and its 999-year water lease agreement between the erstwhile royal regime of Travancore and the Madras Presidency has been a bone of contention between the two neighbours for quite some time.

Though Kerala has been demanding a new structure to replace the existing one, the Supreme Court held that the reservoir was safe and allowed Tamil Nadu to raise the water level after strengthening the dam.

The proposal for a new dam is also facing resistance as it would be constructed in an earthquake-prone area, and it would cause enormous destruction to the Periyar Tiger Reserve.