Thursday, January 12, 2012

Point to Ponder

SreeNair | 10:12 AM |
This is the gists of the writeups appeared in The Hindu openion pages enunciating the thoughts of eminant people in politics in the Mullapperiyar issue.It is felt that their view points are vital to understand the intricacies underlying in the burning issue.

DM: Sri.Durai Murugan is a Congress leader from Tamil Nadu and an Ex-MP.
RS:Sri.Ramaswamy Iyyer is a renowned writer and  activist from South India
PC: Sri.Premachandran is a left front political leader  and Ex-minister of water resources in Kerala

The Agreement:
  Under the 1886 agreement between the former Madras Presidency and the princely State of Travancore, Travancore agreed to the diversion of Periyar waters to Madras Presidency, and to lease a piece of land (8000 acres) in its territory to Madras Presidency for building and operating the project designed for this purpose. The curious fact is that the lease was for 999 years. Whole countries and civilizations could have changed during that period! In Kerala, there is an almost universal feeling (right or wrong) that the 1886 agreement was an unfair one imposed on a reluctant Travancore by a more powerful Madras Presidency with the prestige and power of the British government behind it; and that while Madras (now Tamil Nadu) benefited substantially from the agreement, Travancore (Kerala) got little more than a negligible lease-rent for the land leased to Madras. In 1970, an increase in the lease rent was negotiated by Kerala but there was no radical revision of the totality of the agreement. In any resolution of the Mullaperiyar issue, some assuaging of Kerala's longstanding grievance will have to be an element.
Mullaiperiyar  is not an emotive or political issue in Tamil Nadu, which has been treating it as a rights issue that it can solve legally. After all, justice is on the side of the right.
In the various talks I have participated in, the alleged unfairness of the agreement never cropped up. The land clearly belongs to Tamil Nadu as the agreement of 1886 is legally sound.
The “sense of grievance” over the alleged unfairness over the 1886 agreement between the Maharaja of Travancore and the British government in India  is baseless since the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments ratified the original agreement and also entered into a supplementary agreement in 1970 as equal States. This agreement was not a colonial trick, but an attempt at mutual cooperation between the States, initiated by democratically elected eminent leaders.
 In fact, during the discussions with Pennyquick from 1862 onwards, the Maharaja was for a joint venture with the profit accrued from the revenue to be shared on agreed basis. But later he pulled out and preferred to accept lease rent for the land submerged, which only goes to prove that the King did not sign the agreement under any duress. Today, it is Kerala that is refusing to acknowledge the Maharaja's wisdom and vision in protecting his people from the annual floods in the Periyar — and getting some income by leasing a piece of land that was lying waste between hills.

Kerala has not repudiated the Periyar lease agreement at any point: this is indeed a reflection of the earnest desire on the part of Kerala to assure its brethren across the border that it would not renege on its assurance to ensure water to Tamil Nadu. The issue of the validity of the original lease agreement is pending before the Supreme Court, with a Constitution Bench examining the merits of this pre-Independence-era agreement.

Why not obey Supreme court directions

It is the case of judicial probe-not for amicable settlement.Mr. Premachandran's claim that Kerala “has always respected the judiciary and unflinchingly abided by its verdicts,” is far from the truth. The entire world knows that Kerala amended its Act to circumvent the Supreme Court's 2006 verdict, which allowed an increase in the storage level to 142 ft initially and 152 ft finally after completion of the strengthening process. While ordering status quo, the Supreme Court Bench made it clear that there “would be no impediment for Tamil Nadu to carry out maintenance and repairs for upkeep” of the dam.
This is essentially a matter for settlement by amicable agreement, not judicial determination.” When I read his statements that neither the view of the Central Water Commission nor the judgment of the Supreme Court was acceptable, I wondered what locus standi he had to make such a suggestion.
let me provide key irrefutable facts to reject his thesis. Mr. Iyer himself should be aware of the fact that several rounds of talks have been held between the two States during the past three decades and all of them failed. The talks were held at different levels. Chief Ministers of the States have discussed the issue; Irrigation Ministers have tried to sort out the differences; Chief Secretaries have attempted to arrive at a solution; and other officials have sat across the table several times, even in the presence of the Union Water Resources Ministry. Does Mr. Iyer think that a mutual agreement is possible even now? what is galling is Mr. Iyer's contention that it is not a matter for judicial determination. It is the right of every citizen of this country to seek legal recourse on contentious issues and his or her duty to abide by the ruling of the courts. The fact that the Kerala government has failed to abide by the directions of the Supreme Court of India is something no one is bringing to light in the media discourse.
Keralaabided by its verdicts. The Supreme Court, in its judgment of February 27, 2006, allowed the raising of the water level to 142 feet, and thereafter to 152 feet upon the baby dam being strengthened. This verdict was based entirely on the recommendations of an Expert Committee constituted by the CWC, which had concluded that the dam is safe, on the basis of erroneous values and insufficient data.

In March 2006, the Kerala Assembly amended the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, 2003, fixing the full reservoir level (FRL) of 22 dams in the State. In the case of the Mullaperiyar dam, the FRL was fixed at 136 feet. Through an Original Suit before the Supreme Court, pending final verdict, Tamil Nadu has questioned the Kerala Legislature's competence to enact such an amendment.

The Supreme Court has so far not stayed the legislation fixing the water level at 136 feet, and has only ordered that no dam-strengthening measures be taken up, and that the status quo be maintained on the water level issue. Kerala has the right to object to any cosmetic strengthening measures proposed by Tamil Nadu in the interregnum. It is not true that Kerala has displayed scant regard for a judgment of the Supreme Court.
Mr. Durai Murugan contends that there is no scope for further dialogue between the States. Our democracy and the Constitution provide ample opportunity for sustained and purposeful discussions to resolve even the most vexed of issues. Kerala has immense faith in this mechanism to resolve the Mullaperiyar issue to mutual satisfaction. But apparently, Tamil Nadu has been in a state of denial and reluctant to reciprocate, even at the bidding of the Government of India.
c) The dam safety question and the people's fears: Prima facie , dam safety does not seem a suitable subject for judicial determination. One wishes that the Supreme Court had told the two State governments to resolve the issue by amicable discussions, or to seek the intervention of the Central government. Alternatively, the Supreme Court could have directed the Inter-State Council, a constitutional body, to intervene and bring about an amicable settlement. Instead the learned judges decided to deal with the matter themselves, and appointed an Empowered Committee to examine and report on it. The Empowered Committee includes eminent experts but their opinion, even if the Supreme Court accepts it, may not necessarily be the final word on the subject, particularly if a different opinion is given by other equally distinguished experts outside. Under the circumstances, the sensible course would be for the two State governments, perhaps with the assistance of a joint committee of experts, to reach a reasonable agreement on the subject.

Why do Kerala steadfastly resist TN to take up Strengthenin efforts.
But the Kerala Forest Department foisted criminal cases against Tamil Nadu's engineers who went there to carry out regular maintenance work.
One example relates to the strengthening of the Mullaiperiyar dam, which needs to be done in three phases — emergency, medium-term, and long-term, as advised by the Central Water Commission. Though the medium level strengthening has been completed, Kerala did not allow Tamil Nadu to raise the water level to 142 feet as per the Supreme Court's directive. But overcoming the obstacles that Kerala threw in the way of carrying out the work was more agonizing. When Tamil Nadu wanted to use small explosives to break stones, Kerala objected saying that the noise would disturb wildlife. When Tamil Nadu tried to transport the gravel in lorries, they stopped the vehicles saying the sound would scare the animals. At last, we used donkeys to transport building material.

Now Kerala is refusing to give permission for strengthening the baby dam, which is part of the irrigation system in Mullaiperiyar, and the building of the parapet walls on the main dam, which is essential if Tamil Nadu is to complete the long-term strengthening process. If Kerala's concern is the dam's safety alone, why is it preventing us physically from carrying out the strengthening work? I hope the people of Kerala, if they are really fearful of the dam bursting, would ask this of their rulers. Once the long-term strengthening is done, Tamil Nadu would be legally entitled to store water up to 152 feet. It is pertinent here to record the fact that the Kerala government has steadfastly refused to give a power connection to the small PWD maintenance office located at the dam site.
In fact, the very idea behind my writing to The Hindu was to bring out the simple fact that Tamil Nadu is truly concerned about the safety of the dam and has been investing huge resources not just to strengthen the dam but to create a structure that is as good as a new one. It was in that context that I said that Kerala was physically preventing Tamil Nadu from undertaking work on strengthening it. Mr. Premachandran conveniently ignores it, while Mr. Iyer callously says he has nothing to say on that.

Kerala's apprehensions about the dam's stability — or lack of it — are not of recent origin. It was built when construction techniques were in a nascent stage. Its core was built of lime surki concrete, with a facing of coarse rubble masonry in lime mortar. Attempts were made in the 1930s to strengthen it by grouting and guniting. Even after repeating the grouting in 1960, leaks were observed. Tamil Nadu itself has conceded before the Supreme Court that over 3,500 tonnes of lime has been washed away from the structure over the last century. As against this, a mere 542 tonnes of concrete has been put into the dam which, it should be reiterated, relies on gravity for stability. Strengthening cannot guarantee the structural stability of the dam, which lies in a highly seismic zone. That it is necessary to periodically strengthen the dam is in itself a pointer to its intrinsic structural weakness and the hazards that have manifested over time.

Even as the Central Water Commission (CWC) was advocating short, medium and long-term measures to strengthen the dam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu agreed in 1979 that a permanent solution lay in constructing a new dam. At the discussions held on January 25, 1979, under the chairmanship of K.C. Thomas, CWC Chairman, it was decided that “a joint team of engineers from Tamil Nadu and Kerala will explore the possibility of locating a new dam within a reasonable distance from the existing dam.” Officials from both States jointly identified and confirmed the specific location and alignment where the new construction was to be made. Officials from Kerala and Tamil Nadu even inked an agreement on December 20, 1979, to this effect, and this was approved by the CWC Chairman. But this agreement was not carried forward to its logical conclusion. Why is Tamil Nadu objecting to a new dam now?
A further point is that with strengthening measures, the 116-year-old dam can perhaps be kept going for some more years but it must be presumed to be nearing the end of its useful life. Contingency plans must be prepared for the eventual phasing out of the dam. These must include alternative means of supporting economic activity and prosperity in the project-dependent areas in Tamil Nadu.
Periyar is an interstate river
There can be no question of Tamil Nadu giving up its rights over Mullaiperiyar
To Mr. Iyer's averment that “Periyar is not an inter-State river,” I would like to point out that a river whose catchment lies in more than one State is an inter-State river. As per the Water Atlas of Kerala (1995), published by Kerala's own Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, of the 5,398-sq km of the catchment of Mullaiperiyar, 114 sq km is in Tamil Nadu.
When it comes to “rights,” Tamil Nadu has the right to maintain the dam and also draw water under the lease agreement, whether Mr. Iyer agrees on that or not. Besides, Tamil Nadu has usage rights over the waters as its usage period exceeds a century: this is an internationally accepted principle on water-sharing.
Mullaiperiyar waters are not exclusively Kerala's, but an inter-State resource governed by the principles of inter-State rivers.
The concerns of people in Tamil Nadu: Whatever views one might hold on the nature of the project, the fact is that the people in the water-short Vaigai Basin areas in Tamil Nadu have been recipients of Periyar waters for over a hundred years, and must be presumed to have acquired some kind of a right of established use.  The dispute regarding the safety of the dam has created a sense of uncertainty — in fact an acute anxiety — in the areas concerned in Tamil Nadu about continued flows. Thus, there are two vulnerabilities in this case: the life-security concerns of people in Kerala and the livelihood-security concerns of the people of Tamil Nadu. Both need to be addressed.
It is true that the Mullaperiyar dam was commissioned as part of a lease deed signed in 1886 to divert the waters of the Periyar for irrigation in parts of the Madras Presidency, and that Tamil Nadu is entitled to claim its share as a right. But by no stretch of imagination can the Periyar be classified as an inter-State river, as claimed in the article. The river across which the dam is situated is entirely in Kerala; no part of it originates from, or runs through, any other State. The entire stretch flows through Kerala, with a negligible 2 per cent contribution from insignificant rivulets from Tamil Nadu joining the main course downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam. Therefore, claiming that Mullaperiyar is an “inter-State resource governed by the principles of inter-State rivers” is fallacious.
The author seeks to assert that “the land belongs to Tamil Nadu.” This is a new claim, fraught with serious ramifications. Tamil Nadu is merely the lessee. Far from helping to find a lasting solution within the federal framework, this new contention will only serve to provide a new twist to the imbroglio.
The latest slogan, ‘Water for Tamil Nadu, Safety for Kerala,' is just a deception.
The proposal for a new dam downstream, which has caught the fancy of many well-meaning people with no real knowledge of ground realities, is only a ploy to deprive Tamil Nadu of water. First, if a new dam is constructed away — that too, downstream — from the Mullaiperiyar, Tamil Nadu will not be able to draw water and supply it to the rain-shadow districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivagangai, and Ramanathapuram. Secondly, environmental clearance could be an uphill task for the construction of a new structure now, given the latest laws, which might be used as a pretext by Kerala to throw up its hands after knocking off the present dam and thus achieving its goal of diverting the water to Idukki dam for power generation.
Kerala's commitment to supply the same quantum of water to Tamil Nadu has been endorsed by the Kerala Assembly through a unanimous resolution. Therefore, it is hard to fathom Tamil Nadu's objections against Kerala building a dam on its territory, across a State-river with its own funds. Moreover, is the Tamil Nadu Government — or indeed Mr. Durai Murugan — willing to guarantee that the present structure would withstand the shortcomings in its construction technology and the ravages of nature for the 863 years of the residual period of the lease agreement?

DAM will never burst

Mr. Iyer's philosophical statement, “if, hypothetically speaking, the dam were to burst, waters will cease to flow to Tamil Nadu,” holds no water as no gravity dam has burst anywhere in the world. If at all there is a risk of a dam-burst in Kerala, it is with the Idukki dam, which is an arch-dam.
The dam tamed so effectively the roguish river that was causing devastation before flowing into the Arabian Sea, that the Maharaja approached the British government to build another dam in southern Travancore, where the Kodaiyar was wreaking havoc in Nanjilnadu, the southern rice bowl of his kingdom. It was that effort that led to the construction of the Pechiparai dam, which now stands tall, even a hundred years later, in Kanyakumari district that was acceded to Tamil Nadu during the reorganisation of States. In the same reorganisation process, had Peermedu and Devikulam taluks of Idukki district been acceded to Tamil Nadu, perhaps I would not have been writing this now.
Finally, to allay Mr. Premachandran's fear of the Idukki dam bursting in the (imaginary) event of the Mullaiperiyar dam giving way, I have a piece of advice for Kerala: Please keep the storage level [in the Idukki dam] a little low. After all, the Idukki water goes waste, flowing into the Arabian Sea.
Mr. Premachandran has also conveniently forgotten the fact that the finding of a Professor at IIT Delhi that the dam was hydro logically unsafe was categorically rejected by the Union Water Resources Ministry, which said “the findings did not appear well founded.”

However, no expert can give an absolute guarantee of safety. The dam in this case is 116 years old, and even with all the strengthening measures, one can hardly be wholly confident about its safety under all circumstances. The recent tremors in the area might have been minor but no one can guarantee that a stronger earthquake will not occur, or that if it does the dam will withstand it; or that if there is an exceptionally heavy flood the dam will be safe. These are extreme and perhaps improbable situations but the point is that there can be no absolute unqualified guarantee of safety under all circumstances. That is true of all dams, and particularly so of aging dams and of dams in seismically active areas.

Moreover, what the experts say may not allay the fears of the people downstream of the dam. To some extent those fears might have been accentuated by the statements of political leaders but they cannot be lightly dismissed as imaginary or paranoid. The people living in the shadow of the dam need to be reassured.

The remote contingency of a risk actually materialising may be acceptable in many cases, but unacceptable in a few. It seems to this writer that the risk in this case falls into the category of ‘unacceptable'.

A study on the “Probable Maximum Flood Estimation and Flood Routing of Mullaperiyar Dam,” by Dr. A.K. Gosain of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, concluded that the dam is hydro logically unsafe. At no point have the findings been disputed. A study on the “Structural Stability of Mullaperiyar Dam with regard to Seismic Effect,” by a team with Dr. Arun Bapat as Chairman, and Dr. D.K. Paul, Head of the Earthquake Engineering Department of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, as member, predicted that the structure would collapse in the event of a Magnitude-6 earthquake.

These studies point to the fact that the dam is a disaster waiting to happen. In the past few months, the area proximate to the dam has experienced over two dozen tremors of varying magnitudes. The argument that the Idukki dam also lies in this zone and is equally vulnerable is again ingenuous. The Idukki dam has been designed and built to withstand earthquakes of Magnitude-8.

Can Idukki hold waters of Mullapperiyar
Kerala's politicians have never told their people for more than two decades that if the Mullaiperiyar is removed, then only about eight tmcft of water would flow into the Idukki dam, which can hold 73 tmcft water. When the people, who have never had an opportunity to see the dam in the thick reserve forest area, were enlightened that the Idukki dam, which is normally filled only up to half its capacity, would hold the water, the Kerala government machinery floated a theory that Idukki would not be able to withstand the sudden inflow. But even the Kerala Advocate General recently told the court that the water would easily collect in the three dams downstream, including Idukki.Finally, to allay Mr. Premachandran's fear of the Idukki dam bursting in the (imaginary) event of the Mullaiperiyar dam giving way, I have a piece of advice for Kerala: Please keep the storage level [in the Idukki dam] a little low. After all, the Idukki water goes waste, flowing into the Arabian Sea.

The claim that the Idukki dam can contain the flood water in the event of the Mullaperiyar dam collapsing is contrary to the truth. The combined storage of the Mullaperiyar and Idukki reservoirs had crossed the FRL in 1981, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2005 and 2007. In the event of such a situation arising again and the Mullaperiyar dam collapsing, Idukki would overflow, thereby putting its stability under serious jeopardy. There are more than 1.5 lakh people living downstream between the Mullaperiyar structure and the Idukki dam. What happens to them in the event of damage to the Mullaperiyar dam? Kerala stares at the prospect of a 30-feet tall column of water surging down at a speed of 50 kmph upon the Idukki and Kulamavu dams, thereby overwhelming them and setting off a chain of events that have the makings of an apocalypse for the 35 lakh people living in four districts. The Government of Kerala has to protect its people. There is ample scope to invoke the “precautionary principle of action” in this case, and Kerala is duty-bound to raise it.

Why a new Dam
The need is for a “new dam,” and not “as good as new dam” as advocated by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. In Kerala, we hope the government and the people of Tamil Nadu, and indeed the whole nation, would accept this reality and recognize the need for a dam to replace the existing Mullaperiyar dam.
A further point is that with strengthening measures, the 116-year-old dam can perhaps be kept going for some more years but it must be presumed to be nearing the end of its useful life. Contingency plans must be prepared for the eventual phasing out of the dam. These must include alternative means of supporting economic activity and prosperity in the project-dependent areas in Tamil Nadu.


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