The century old Mullaperiyar dam is back in the middle of fresh political skirmish with Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa warning Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that her government will deploy state forces at the dam if the centre doesn’t send central paramilitary personnel to guard it.
The latest provocation for Jaya’s angry missive to Singh is Kerala’s efforts to prevent Tamil Nadu officials from plugging the holes that had been drilled into the dam for collecting samples for safety studies. Tamil Nadu had been asked to close the holes by the empowered committee of the Supreme Court, which had ordered the studies.
The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister said that Kerala is preventing her officials from doing their duty to deliberately weaken the dam, particularly with the onset of the monsoon.
“The attitude of Kerala is reprehensible and needs to be set right,” she said reiterating her demand that the CISF forces should guard the dam.
After several safety tests, the committee had certified the dam to be safe structurally, seismically and hydrologically silencing the doomsday predictions of the anti-dam lobby in Kerala.
For Kerala, where the people of at least five districts were in the grip of panic and fear of an imminent dam burst, the expert committee’s safety certificate was too bitter to swallow. Most of the political parties, the media and environmentalists in Kerala believe that the dam is a disaster-in-waiting and needs to be rebuilt, while Tamil Nadu maintains that it is absolutely safe.
Ever since the expert committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court, Kerala has been up in arms against its alleged partisanship. Swearing by two IIT studies the that the had commissioned to support their argument, the anti-dam voices said the report had serious flaws and had blatantly favoured Tamil Nadu.
While Kerala played victim, Tamil Nadu said its stand had been vindicated. Although the jury is still out on the issue with the Supreme Court yet to hear the case, the expert committee report is a seriously setback to Kerala’s argument.
The two main political protagonists in Kerala, water resources minister PJ Joseph and finance minister KM Mani have dismissed the report and continued their rhetoric on the danger of the dam, citing the findings of the IIT reports. The main ruling party, the Congress, meanwhile advised restrain and said the arguments should now be in the Supreme Court and one should creatively use the aspects of the report that are supportive to the state.
The possibility of a new dam is the straw that the report has left for Kerala and it will certainly try to clutch at it in its arguments in the Court. Kerala’s strategy will be to push for a new dam and hence do everything to reject the safety theory.
Kerala Police preventing Tamil Nadu officials from plugging the holes could be a ploy by the state to strengthen its new-dam theory. Jaya sees a conspiracy in the stand of the state and alleges that it is deliberately trying to keep the holes open when the monsoon is on.
Kerala’s stand is not new. It had always objected to Tamil Nadu undertaking maintenance work on the dam alleging that the latter was trying to dress up serious structural flaws that endanger the lives of millions of people downstream.
The dam, built within Kerala 116 years ago and controlled by Tamil Nadu and is managed by state officials. However, since it is within the territory of Kerala, its officials have been able to block at will the activities of the Tamil Nadu officials. The recent stand by the Kerala police is one such instance of Kerala flexing its muscles.
This has irked Jaya. She is now determined to take a tough stand.
If Manmohan Singh is unable to get the issue sorted out, this could lead to a problem on the border. Tamil Nadu is well within its right to undertake the repair works because the upkeep of the dam is its responsibility. Preventing it from doing it, although arising out of annoyance or perceived conspiracy, is not a justifiable move by Kerala.
At present the dam is protected by Kerala Police, which often restricts free access of Tamil Nadu officials. While Tamil Nadu would fancy a non-holds-barred-access to the dam, the people of Kerala on the other side of the border as well as the government are extra-vigilant and suspicious of Tamil Nadu’s move. The Kerala Police’s mandate to protect the dam is an opportunity it won’t easily give up.
Jaya had asked for a replacement of the Kerala Police with CISF earlier as well, but the Prime Minister had not responded. Now that the row is raising its head again, a tough Jaya wants to sort it out once and for all.