An analysis of Mullaperiyar issue between Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Mullaperiyar is the hot debate of the newspapers and channels of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the rest of India. The concerns of both states have been aired again and again, causing further strain on the relation between the two states. This article attempts an objective analysis of the situation.

The one news that is resonating in the newspapers and channels of South India is the Mullaperiyar issue. Debates are sound, pleadings are going on and some are even taking to violence. The issue has reached a more sensitive level when it virtually turned to a fight between Kerala and Thailand – two states that have no records of violence and hate in their history. The only burning issue between them was, and is Mullaperiyar. What is the issue and what can be done? This article has it all, and it is objective.

Mullaperiyar Dam – A History

Mullaperiyar Dam was built in 1886-1895. During then, the states were not reorganised, and the dam was built in the region of Travancore (present Kerala) adjoining the Madras Presidency (present Tamil Nadu). The space for the Periyar Project (around 8000 acres) was given by Maharaja of Travancore to the Madras Presidency at an annual rent of Rs. 5 for 999 years. This means that the combined project of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is valid till year 2885. The sum of 5 rs per acre was a valid amount in the 1880s, but a hike has not been made in this amount corresponding to the money value of today. The present rent in Rs. 30 per acre, where as the general plot rent is around 500 Rs. for a mere scent in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. However, money is not the matter as far as Mullaperiyar is concerned.

Mullaperiyar is a gravity dam, which uses not concrete, but a mixture of lime and saccharine. Such dams are supposed to bear the pressure of the water with the help of their weight and gravity. When the dam was built, the architects expected it to last for 150 years. The dam has been in use for around only 125 years. Much of the Lime-Saccharine concrete that held the dam was washed away within 1980s. Hence dam strengthening works were carried out from 1980 – 1994. At present, the dam carries about 130 feet of water.

Concerns of Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar Dam issue

In Tamil Nadu's point of view, Tamil Nadu is a rain shadow region of Western Ghats, and faces extreme drought and scarcity of water. The Mullaperiyar Dam supplies water to the districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuam. If the Mullaperiyar dam's water level is reduced, it will seriously affect the production and electricity generation of Tamil Nadu. The waters of Mullaperiyar have not yet reached the 136 scale, which is the present upper limit of the dam. Even if something happens to the dam, the waters of the Mullaperiyar will be effectively contained in Idukki, a dam which lies at a lower level than Mullaperiyar, causing no danger to the lives of the people. The people who live between the two dams are those who illegally occupied the land leased to Tamil Nadu. The recent hype is the creation of some divisive forces. The dam has been strengthened once, and now it possesses no danger. Hence the dam should not be decommissioned.

Concerns of Kerala over the Mullaperiyar Dam issue

In Kerala's point of view, Mullaperiyar has more than 50 cracks in the base foundation, leading to heavy seepage of water. Recently, the Idukki area, which contains the dam experienced minor tremors and earthquakes, around 40 of them in the last two years. But the tremors which took place a few weeks ago marked a 4 point in the Richter scale. Studies say that a five point tremor in the area will lead to the collapse of the dam, thereby causing the four districts of Kerala – Ernakulam, Idukki, Thrissur and Alappuzha to be wiped off. Kerala says that since the inclination of the landscape is towards Arabian Sea, the entire damage will be suffered by Kerala alone. In reaction to some studies saying that the Idukki dam will support the flood, Kerala states that Idukki is an arch dam, which almost fills to the upper limit during monsoon. As long as Idukki is not a gravity dam like Mullaperiyar, it depends not on the weight, but on the strength of the arch. Hence if the entire water of Mullaperiyar flows to Idukki, it is likely that Idukki Dam will also suffer damages. Idukki is the largest dam in Kerala, and if something happens, Kerala will lose the heart of her land, leaving the state two fragmented pieces on North and South. Moreover, it is found that even if the waters of Mullaperiyar flow to Idukki, the entire region in between will suffer loss. Hence Mullaperiyar should be decommissioned.

Dam 999 - a film based on Mullaperiyar Dam

Dam 999 is a fiction-to-franchise venture released by Sohan Roy, a writer and a filmmaker. The film was released in the exact timing of the tremors in Kerala, and the two events together caused a great tension in Kerala regarding the dam. The issue was brought up and it's burning today.

A Solution for the Mullaperiyar Debate?

There are valid points in the arguments of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The argument of Kerala, saying that a 5 point tremor will cause the collapse of the dam, endangering many lives, is scientifically proven. At the same time, the claim of Tamil Nadu that the dismantling of the dam will severely affect the production and primary water need is also valid. As per the lease agreement, and more so as a sister state, Kerala is indebted to help Tamil Nadu in the case of water scarcity and consequent disasters. Similarly, as a sister state, Tamil Nadu is also indebted to take care that the lives of Keralites are protected. What we need is a solution that can solve the problems of both, a way by which the Mullaperiyar dam can be rebuilt or rectified, at the same time Tamil Nadu will get water in between the rebuilding stage. Thus the concerns of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu can be appeased.

India is a great and diverse country, where water-wars and river water dispute is listed as one of the three major reasons that causes strain between states. On a greater level, what we need to focus while solving the issue is that the cordial relation between the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is not strained. What concerns is not money or politics, but the humanity. A suitable resolution to this issue will lead to the friendly relation between the two states on a long time to come.

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