‘Kerala is fooling Malayalis on the dam issue’

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Political analyst Cho Ramaswamy tells Sai Manish that any new dam built at Mullaperiyar should be under TN control

Cho Ramaswamy
Cho Ramaswamy, Photo: Roy Sinai

Is the Kerala government serious about finding a practical solution to the Mullaperiyar dam issue?
The agreed height of the reservoir was 142 ft but Kerala has time and again played truant and even violated all Supreme Court (SC) rulings. When the SC passed an order that the dam height could be raised in 2006, Kerala passed its own legislation called the Dams Safety Act to avoid being bound by the SC order. The Act gave Kerala the powers to regulate the amount of water in each and every dam in the state. That was clearly an attempt to subvert the SC order and endanger the life of Tamil farmers. The first serious lapse happened when the SC did not pursue its own judgment and did not haul up Kerala for contempt of court and instead chose to set up a five-member empowered committee, which has further complicated matters.

The SC did not intervene in a bid to allow both states to settle the matter through negotiations. However, the Jayalalithaa government seems to have shown no interest in approaching the issue objectively with its neighbour.
What can she do? The SC has to take a decision and needs to pull up Kerala for violating its order. If the SC had pulled up the Kerala government for subverting its order in 2006, then a situation like this would not have arisen.

Tamil Nadu pays just Rs 10 lakh a year as rent for the dam. Will paying more money mollify the Kerala government?
This has been the case since the Raj era and later changes were made. In the 1970s, additional conditions were added such as charges for power generation payable to Kerala and increased fee for its utilisation. So there is no need for the Kerala government to get any more money than what it receives for the limestone dam at Mullaperiyar.

Kerala has been trying to use mass media to whip up fear and support against Tamil Nadu’s stance. Haven’t facts been diluted in this battle of perceptions on a sensitive issue?
It’s hard for people to understand facts. There is a scientific report, which shows that tremors around the Mullaperiyar started after Kerala built the Idukki dam in 1975. In fact, it is a proven fact that hydrologically induced seismicity has increased dramatically after Kerala built a 60 sq km reservoir in Idukki. Kerala has endangered the lives of its own people and is putting the blame on the Mullaperiyar dam and fooling Malayalis. For almost 10 years, there was complete unanimity that Tamil Nadu’s electricity and irrigation needs should be met at any cost. Just when a solution was near, there is suddenly an upsurge of mass hysteria generated purely to serve political ends in the state.

But the AIADMK has also been accused of leveraging the issue politically. Finance Minister O Panneerselvam was attacked by a mob near Theni. Isn’t that indication enough there are opportunists from every party in this battle of perception?
Paneerselvam is an AIADMK minister and instigating violence serves no purpose for the party. I cannot imagine a situation where AIADMK cadres will go against the party chief as it is a tightly knit party. Nobody would dare go against Jayalalithaa’s orders on the issue and the instructions are clearly to maintain peace and harmony across the state.

So what’s the solution? A newer, bigger, safer dam or the older, smaller, safer dam?
I would go for a mix of both options but let’s get one thing straight. Right now, the dam is in Tamil Nadu’s control. A new dam would be under Kerala’s control. A state like Kerala, which has scant regard for an SC order, cannot be trusted to meet the needs of Tamil Nadu if a new dam is built. Any new dam should be under Tamil Nadu’s control.

Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
sai.manish@tehelka.com

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