Mullaperiyar dam very old, something new needs to be done: Kerala Governor

This is the first time the Kerala Governor has spoken on the issue, simmering for decades between the governments and people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by the Tami Nadu government.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan Tuesday remarked that “something new needs to be done” on the subject of the Mullaperiyar Dam as the existing structure is very old. He added that he hopes to see an amicable settlement in the controversial issue.

Governor Khan told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, “I have referred the concern to the government and I am sure they will take an appropriate decision in due course. Everybody knows the dam is very old so something new needs to be done but how to reach an amicable settlement, that’s something people are working (on). Whenever there is a water dispute, the judiciary is also involved.”

This is the first time the Kerala Governor has spoken on the issue, simmering for decades between the governments and people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Built between 1887 and 1895 by the British on the Periyar river near Thekkady in Idukki district, the Mullaperiyar dam stands high at 176 ft and was designed to release water to the arid regions around Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu. Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by the Tami Nadu government.

There have been public concerns over the years, especially in Kerala, about the structural stability of the 126-year-old dam with demands spiking in recent times to decommission the structure. The concerns have grown exponentially in the last four years after the 2018 devastating floods and the recurring incidents of flash floods, landslides and mudslips in subsequent years in Idukki district and neighbouring areas. Given the dam is located in a seismic zone, experts have raised fears about the likely impact of a quake with a magnitude higher than six on the Richter scale on people living in the central Kerala districts. Some reports say as high as 35 lakh people would be affected by such an event.

Successive Kerala governments have demanded that the storage level of the water in the dam be lowered while Tamil Nadu has opposed it. In May 2014, the Supreme Court held that the dam was safe and permitted TN to raise the water level to 142 ft and ultimately to 152 ft after completing strengthening measures.

This week, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his TN counterpart MK Stalin, requesting to draw maximum water levels from the dam as the reservoir level was inching up to 142 ft in the backdrop of heavy rains in the catchment area. Vijayan said the TN government must intimate the Kerala govt at least 24 hours in advance about the opening of shutters so that precautionary measures can be taken for the safety of people living downstream of the dam.

Vijayan also told the Assembly that there was no cause for concern over the dam at present. He promised action against those creating panic over the safety of the dam through social media.

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