Kerala Tamil Nadu and the dam controversy!Few things are as damning as this.James Bond’s ‘Quantum of Solace’ had a villain who did not seek rocket secrets or gold ingots but something as common as water. This film strikes a perfect chord with the prevailing forecasts that water is one non-negotiable resource of the future, which is going to result in serious conflicts worldwide. We in India have seen quite a few with our neighbours as well. But no conflict over water has reached a proportion so epic as inter-state war over Mullaperiyar Dam has.
First a little historical perspective. Mullaperiyar dam was built during the British Rule. Raw material was all Britishers needed from their colonies so they forced India to remain an agrarian economy- British Rule did not encourage industries or trade. The rain-shadow regions of the Western Ghats like the Theni/Cumbum/Coimbatore districts were poor revenue earners for the British empire. They were not fertile. Britishers thus built Mullaperiyar dam as they needed water deficit districts of the Eastern Ghats to flourish with the help of diverted water of Periyar river, which originated in the west.
And then came Independence, followed by linguistic divisions of the region into states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The original location of the dam was now in Kerala, but its maintenance was leased to Tamil Nadu while both water and electricity were to be shared. And this arrangement was going fine until some vested interests started raking up the issue that the dam is old and rickety and that if it falls, it will destroy the entire downstream area. Actually more than falling of the dam its rebuilding is contentious as Kerala has on many occasions asserted the need to renovate the dam while Tamil Nadu is wary of any new arrangement where it is devoid of its rightful share in the resources.
Things become murkier when enters politics. Once politicians smelt opportunity in the issue, they took it up in no time. Keralites shops were targeted in Tamil Nadu. Tamilian pilgrims to Sabarimala were thrashed. Thousands of people on both sides of the border were mobilized to show solidarity with the respective states. And rationality, it seems has been thrown into the river! So when we take into account Tamil Nadu’s side of the story – we find their claim that a 120 year old dam is fine a bit exaggerated at the first look but they have studies which show that adequate strengthening work was carried out in the 80’s which means that the dam is going to be fine for the next few decades at least. Remember this was a dam built by British engineers. These guys knew their stuff and they built to last.
When we examine Kerala’s side of the story- they argue that the dam is fine in normal times but the Palakad region has been facing minor tremors recently and what if a big earthquake strikes? So we better demolish the old dam and construct a new one (seriously? Do you trust our PWD engineers that much over British engineers? Seen any recently constructed buildings?) . But their argument hits a roadblock when they plan to construct a new dam further down the river’s course deeper into Kerala and not within the originally allotted land. If they are really worried about the safety of their people why are they worrying over if Tamil Nadu has a stake or not? Anyway the Tamilnadu people will not agree to this because it means that they will lose a key resource and renegotiation with a dismal chance of being favorable would be the only option for them.
Both states are partially right and partially wrong, but it is not really an issue of right and wrong. It is a question of survival and livelihood for many and also need of the hour is allaying of fears on both the sides to cool down the rising tempers before any serious damage to interstate relationships occurs. The only solution for this imbroglio is for the center to step in and read the riot act to the states. But, if we only had a strong center – this issue would not have blown up like this at all. Would it have?