Mullaperiyar Dam has lately been hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons. The safety of the dam has become a great matter of concern and a point of dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Today we will see what exactly is Mullaperiyar Dam controversy. First of all, let’s know more about this dam. It is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar. It is made with lime stone and surkhi (a mixture of sugar and calcium oxide), an archaiced construction technology of 19th century. It is located 2,890 ft above mean sea level on the Cardamom Hills of Western Ghats in Thekkadi, Idukki District of Kerala, India.
Mullaperiyar Dam was constructed between 1887 and 1895 by the British Government to divert water eastwards to Madras Presidency area (the present-day Tamil Nadu). It has a height of 176 ft from the foundation and length of 1,200 ft. The Periyar National Park, Thekkady is located around the dam’s reservoir. Eventhough the dam and the river are fully owned by and located in Kerala, the dam is controlled and operated on 999 years lease by Tamil Nadu.
During the rule of the British in India, Mullaperiyar Dam was constructed over the source of the Periyar River. The dam is operated by the Government of Tamil Nadu based on a lease agreement entered into in 1886 by the British India Government and the Maharajah of Travancore. Control of the dam and the reservoir by Tamil Nadu, after Independence and after Reorganization of States, has been a matter of dispute between the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The matter is still sub judice and is currently pending before a Division Bench of the Supreme Court.
It the only gravity dam in the world which is made of lime stone and surkhi (a mixture of sugar and calcium oxide). The dam is one of the oldest dam in service in the world, at 105 years. The average life-span of a well-built and well-designed dam is considered to be 50-60 years. According to the experts, it should be considered as one of the wonders of the world for being more than a century old calcium structure holding 443,230,000 m3 of water at around 1000 meters above sea level. Around 3.5 million people living below the dam basin may be washed away in less than 2 hours by the powerful water to the sea, if the weak dam fails at any time in the near future. However TamilNadu Government is not ready to accept this argument. It says, if the world’s oldest Kallanai dam (built in the second century AD) in Srirangam in Tiruchirapali district is still functional and continues to irrigate about 4,000 sqkm, why can’t the Mullaperiyar be as well.
The Kerala Government says that in case the dam breaks, the three dams downstream — Idukki, Cheruthoni and Kolamavu – will not be able to withhold the pressure, which will be very dangerous for the lives of 3.5 million people in the state. On the other hand, the TN government maintains that if the Mullaperiyar is demolished, it will create water scarcity in five districts of the state, leading to a draught in the region. Kerala’s Government wants to demolish this dam and construct a new one. But TamilNadu is not ready to accept this demand, as in this case, the 999-year lease would be void, and TamilNadu would have to surrender the 8,000 acres of land under its control to Kerala.