Thursday, December 29, 2011

Talking Sense on Mullaperiyar Dam Issues

Ramaswamy R Iyer is Research Professor at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. He was formerly Secretary, Water Resources in Government of India. He is an authority on water resources management. He authored the book 'Water: Perspectives, Issues, Concerns (2003)' published by Sage Publications. His detailed profile can be seen at:

His article titled 'Towards Good Sense on Mullapperiyar' published by Economic and Political Weekly (Vo. 42, No. 1, January 6-12, 2007) analyzed the Mullapperiyar dam issues as obtaining then between Tamilnadu and Kerala in an objective and non-partisan manner. He also proposed possible solutions.

1. Safety Issues:
As regards safety issues, he wrote: 'With due respect for experts and subject to correction, we cannot be as confident about a 111-year old dam as we might be about a 20-year old or even a 40-year old dam.... A dam that is over a 100 years old must be presumed to be nearing the end of its useful life. Perhaps it can be strengthened and made to work for a further 10 or 20 years, but we must now begin to consider the phasing out of the project over a period of time. This needs careful planning but the process must begin now'.  He does not feel that dam safety is a matter for judicial determination.

He does not support building a new dam. According to him, we must 'rectify a historic blunder and restore the river to its original natural form and flow.'

As regards raising of the water-level to 142', he asks why not let the status quo remain and let Tamil Nadu examine her water needs and water utilization efficiency.

He also feels that Tamil Nadu must try to reassure Kerala on the safety of the dam and that safety must be accepted by Kerala. He suggested a joint committee with experts acceptable to both sides to examine the matter.

2.  Kerala's Main Grievance:
He feels that Kerala's main grievance is 'a sense of historic injustice' and that Tamilnadu must remove or reduce that grievance by giving a fair share of the benefits to Kerala.

3. Action Plan
His further suggestions and action plan:
1) People of either State must stop demonising the people of the other State
2) Civil society initiatives as in the Cavery case must be tried
3) The two State Governments must talk and refrain from going to Courts. They must come to an amicable settlement of the issues.
4) Reassess the earlier agreements and arrive at settlements that are 'manifestly fair and acceptable to both sides'.
5) Tamilnadu should promote better water management, to get more out of available water, assuming the water level will be 136 ft. At the same time, concerns of Tamil Nadu for getting water for its genuine needs must be addressed.
6) Experts must determine risks and impact of raising the water level
7) The two governments must begin the process of examining the eventual phasing out of the Mullaperiyar dam and exploring alternatives.

Mr Iyer has reiterated the same ideas in his recent article published by 'the Hindu'

Sensible suggestions. Will both sides put aside emotions and political rhetoric and listen to Prof Ramaswamy R Iyer? First, the current tense situation must be defused and both sides must respect democratic norms and start talking for mutual benefit.

-Joseph Ponnoly

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