Tamil Nadu-Kerala dam row

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Mullaperiyar dam

Tamil Nadu-Kerala dam row (alternatively India dam row) is an ongoing row and the long legal battle between the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala about the Mullaperiyar dam on the Periyar river. Although the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by the government of Tamil Nadu which signed a 999-year lease agreement with the former British government to irrigate farmland on its side. The agreement was signed by the Secretary of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) under the British Raj and the King of Travancore.[1] Kerala from technical survey says the old masonry dam built with lime surkhi mortar is structurally getting weaker and costly in leakage and massive cracks -shear maintenance in abutments[2] above all it poses significant danger to approximately 3 million people living in the region and that it needs to be rebuilt - a move opposed by Tamil Nadu.[citation needed] Tamil Nadu maintains that the endangered dam was repaired in 1979 and insists the dam's walls have been strengthened and that it can hold more water than the current level of 136 ft (41m) and also due to the fact it only takes around 25,000 INR per year payment for an estimated usage of water for 8000 acres per British oppression era lease,[3] this doesn't include how many tmc feet could be shared which is also a blissful loophole in the Mullayar-"Periyar Lease Deed of 1886" that the government is unwilling to waive. In an 1998 affidavit the Tamil Nadu Government admitted that it drew around 21 tmcft or 594636000000 L (Five hundred ninety-four billion, six hundred thirty-six million litre) annually for around 2,30,000 Acres.[4]

Protests, calling for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene, erupted across Kerala demanding construction of a new dam to replace the Mullaperiyar dam. These new protests were triggered by recent low-intensity earthquakes that prompted scientists to say the dam could not withstand more-intensive tremors.The public and scientific consensus over the seismic vulnerability of the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala, and the Tamil Nadu's resistance to accept the vulnerability of the Dam has strained the inter-state relationship since the 2000s.[5]

This was followed by the chief minister of Kerala's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to try to resolve the damaging row with neighbouring Tamil Nadu. As the row intensified, police in Kerala banned gatherings of more than five people at the dam near the Tamil Nadu border. The move was followed clashes between people from the two states near the town of Kumali. In the countries capital, Members of Parliament from Kerala and Tamil Nadu clashed in India's upper house of parliament over the Issue. However, the issue is at large in multiple dimensions like water shortage, right to protection, etc.[6]

Thousands of people of Kerala have formed a 208 km human wall in a following day[citation needed] to demand a replacement to the dam although Tamil Nadu insists it is safe and that water levels can be raised. The protest was led by the opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) in which politicians, social activists and families along the way took part.[7] The central government has invited senior officials from both states to discuss the issue later in December 2011.

In May 2014, Supreme Court of India ruled that Water level in the dam can be increased from 136 ft to 142 ft. It also struck down Kerala Irrigation Water Conservation Act.[8]

Interstate dispute[edit]

A poster in a bus in Tamil Nadu against Kerala's state in this issue

For Tamil Nadu, Mullaperiyar dam and the diverted Periyar waters act is a source for Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramnad Districts, providing water for irrigation, drinking and also for generation of power in Lower Periyar Power Station. Tamil Nadu has insisted on exercising its unfettered rights to control the dam and its waters, based on the 1866 lease agreement.[citation needed]Kerala has pointed out the unfairness in the 1886 lease agreement and has challenged the validity of this agreement. However safety concerns posed by the 116 year old dam to the safety of the people of Kerala in the event of a dam collapse, have been the focus of disputes from 2009 onward. Kerala's proposal for decommissioning the dam and construction of a new dam on the basis of environmental and life threatening risk it possess, has been challenged by Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu has insisted on raising the water level in the dam to 142 feet, pointing out crop failures. One estimate maintains that "the crop losses to Tamil Nadu, because of the reduction in the height of the dam, between 1980 and 2005 is a whopping 40,000 crores. In the process the farmers of the erstwhile rain shadow areas in Tamil Nadu who had started a thrice yearly cropping pattern had to go back to the bi-annual cropping."[9]

The Kerala Government states that this is not true and the objections raised are political than for welfare. During the year 1979–80 the gross area cultivated in Periyar command area was 171,307 acres (693.25 km2). After the lowering of the level to 136 ft (41 m), the gross irrigated area increased and in 1994–95 it reached 229,718 acres (929.64 km2).[10] The Tamil Nadu government had increased its withdrawal from the reservoir, with additional facilities to cater to the increased demand from newly irrigated areas.[citation needed]

In 2006, the Supreme Court of India by its decision by a three-member division bench, allowed for the storage level to be raised to 142 feet (43 m) pending completion of the proposed strengthening measures, provision of other additional vents and implementation of other suggestions.[11]

However, the Kerala Government promulgated a new "Dam Safety Act" against increasing the storage level of the dam, which has not been objected by the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu challenged it on various grounds. The Supreme Court issued notice to Kerala to respond, however did not stay the operation of the Act even as an interim measure. The Court then advised the States to settle the matter amicably, and adjourned hearing in order to enable them to do so. The Supreme Court of India termed the act as not unconstitutional.[12] Meanwhile, the Supreme Court constituted a Constitution bench to hear the case considering its wide ramifications.[13]

Kerala did not object giving water to Tamil Nadu. Their main cause of objection is the dams safety as it is as old as 110 years. Increasing the level would add more pressure to be handled by already leaking dam.[14] Tamil Nadu wants the 2006 order of Supreme court be implemented so as to increase the water level to 142 feet (43 m).

In 2000 Frontline one author stated thus: "For every argument raised by Tamil Nadu in support of its claims, there is counter-argument in Kerala that appears equally plausible. Yet, each time the controversy gets embroiled in extraneous issues, two things stand out: One is Kerala's refusal to acknowledge the genuine need of the farmers in the otherwise drought-prone regions of Tamil Nadu for the waters of the Mullaperiyar; the other is Tamil Nadu's refusal to see that it cannot rely on or continue to expect more and more from the resources of another State to satisfy its own requirements to the detriment of the other State. A solution perhaps lies in acknowledging the two truths, but neither government can afford the political repercussions of such a confession".[15]

Justice A.S. Anand Committee (The Empowered Committee)[edit]

Oommen Chandy, the Former Chief Minister of Kerala (2004-06 & 2011-16)
Oommen Chandy, the Former Chief Minister of Kerala (2004-06 & 2011-16)
Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

On 18 February 2010, the Supreme Court decided to constitute a five-member empowered committee to study all the issues of Mullaperiyar Dam and seek a report from it within six months.[16] The Bench in its draft order said Tamil Nadu and Kerala would have the option to nominate a member each, who could be either a retired judge or a technical expert. The five-member committee will be headed by former Chief Justice of India A. S. Anand to go into all issues relating to the dam's safety and the storage level. However, the then ruling party of Tamil Nadu, DMK, passed a resolution that it not only oppose the apex court's decision to form the five-member committee, but also said that the state government will not nominate any member to it.[17]

The then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said that immediately after the Supreme Court announced its decision to set up a committee, he had written to Congress president asking the Centre to mediate between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on Mullaperiyar issue.[18] However, the then Leader of Opposition i.e., the Ex Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa objected to the TN Government move. She said that this would give advantage to Kerala in the issue.[19] Meanwhile, Kerala Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran told the state Assembly that the State should have the right of construction, ownership, operation and maintenance of the new dam, while giving water to Tamil Nadu on the basis of a clear cut agreement. He also informed the media that Former Supreme Court Judge Mr. K. T. Thomas will represent Kerala on the expert panel constituted by Supreme Court.[20]

On 8 March 2010, Tamil Nadu told the Supreme Court that it was not interested in adjudicating the dispute with Kerala before the special “empowered” committee appointed by the apex court for settling the inter-State issue.[21] However, Supreme Court refused to accept Tamil Nadu's request to scrap the decision to form the empowered committee. The Supreme Court also criticized the Union Government on its reluctance in funding the empowered committee.[22]

Implementing directions of the Supreme Court, the Central Government extended the terms of Empowered Committee for a further period of six months, namely till April 30, 2012.[13]

Construction of a new dam[edit]

Mullaperiyar reservoir

Kerala enacted the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006 to ensure safety of all 'endangered' dams in the State, listed in the second schedule to the Act. Section 62A of the Act provides for listing in the schedule, "details of the dams which are endangered on account of their age, degeneration, degradation, structural or other impediments as are specified".[23][24] The second schedule to the Act lists Mullaperiyar (dam) constructed in 1895 and fixes 136 feet as its maximum water level. The Act empowers Kerala Dam Safety Authority (Authority specified in the Act) to oversee safety of dams in the State and sec 62(e) empowers the Authority to direct the custodian (of a dam) "to suspend the functioning of any dam, to decommission any dam or restrict the functioning of any dam if public safety or threat to human life or property, so require". The Authority can conduct periodical inspection of any dam listed in the schedules.

In pursuance of Kerala's dam safety law declaring Mullaperiyar dam as an endangered dam, in September 2009, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of Government of India granted environmental clearance to Kerala for conducting survey for new dam downstream.[25] Tamil Nadu approached Supreme Court for a stay order against the clearance; however, the plea was rejected. Consequently, the survey was started in October, 2009. Later strengthening the dam's previously fractured areas was inspected and have given a temporary extend to the life of the dam. Kerala Govt. has communicated with the Central Govt. and Tamil Nadu for extension of the project and for preparing and acquiring modern and scientific plans with all possible factors tabulated.[13]


  1. ^ http://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/the-mullaperiyar-dam-dispute-between-kerala-and-tamil-nadu-is-unnecessary-567858
  2. ^ Safety of Existing Dams: Evaluation and Improvement. National Academies. 1 January 1983. p. 190. NAP:15069. 
  3. ^ http://india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/wrpinfo/images/8/8f/124.pdf
  4. ^ http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/tamil-nadu-and-kerala-slug-it-out-over-mullaperiyar-dam-5475
  5. ^ For details on how Kerala successfully constructed a scientific argument about the seismic vulnerability of the Mullaperiyar dam since 2001, see Shiju Sam Varughese. 2017. Contested Knowledge: Science, Media, and Democracy in Kerala. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp.126-141.
  6. ^ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Rain-dependent-southern-states-spar-over-sharing-water-India-Water-Week-is-currently-being-observed/articleshow/51764291.cms
  7. ^ "208-km human chain formed for new Kerala dam". Hindustan Times. 
  8. ^ "Kerala to file review petition in Apex Court in Mullaperiyar verdict". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  9. ^ The Mullaperiyar imbroglio. Hard News. April 2006
  10. ^ Kerala Government's arguments. Expert-eyes.org. Retrieved on 2011-11-25.
  11. ^ Mullaperiyar water level can be raised. Deccan Herald. February 28, 2006
  12. ^ Mullaperiyar: apex court issues notice to Government . The Hindu. September 9, 2006. Retrieved on 2011-11-25.
  13. ^ a b c Ministry of Water Resources (2011-12-02). "Mulla Periyar Dam issue". Govt. of India. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  14. ^ "Mullaperiyar dam row: Clashes at Kerala-Tamil Nadu border post". NDTV. 6 December 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  15. ^ R. Krishnakumar (December 8, 2000). "Over to the Supreme Court". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 
  16. ^ "Supreme Court constitutes empowered committee to go into Mullaperiyar issues". The Hindu. Chennai, India. February 17, 2010. 
  17. ^ "DMK for keeping away from panel on Mullaperiyar". The Hindu. Chennai, India. February 20, 2010. 
  18. ^ "DMK against SC panel on dam". The Times Of India. February 21, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Jayalalithaa criticises Karunanidhi over Mullaperiyar issue". The Hindu. Chennai, India. February 22, 2010. 
  20. ^ "K.T. Thomas to be on Mullaperiyar panel". The Hindu. Chennai, India. March 4, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Tamil Nadu not interested in adjudicating Mullaperiyar before panel". The Hindu. Chennai, India. March 8, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Tamil Nadu plea dismissed, empowered panel on Mullaperiyar will stay". The Hindu. Chennai, India. March 30, 2010. 
  23. ^ Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006
  24. ^ "Kerala Justifies Enactment of the Act", the Hindu, Sept 19, 2006
  25. ^ "The New Indian Express", 17 September 2009

See also[edit]