Published on 25 October, 2021
Damocles Sword- we have heard about it or sometimes felt around a situation like that. But an old dam in Kerala has been scaring millions of people with a fear of its disastrous breach at any time.
Once again, due to the alarming flood in Kerala State, the good old  Mullaperiyar Dam is a ticking time bomb, waiting to detonate to give way to nature's fury. As a result, the people of Idukki and the adjoining districts of Kerala have been living in constant fear of losing their livelihood or even lives. It may wipe away two or three densely populated districts of the Kerala State itself.

Google says that the average lifespan of a dam is often estimated to be 50 years. In that case, this particular dam would have been in the process of rebuilding for the third time.

As per the long history cut short; Mullaperiyar dam was built in the late 1800s in the princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala) and given to British-ruled Madras Presidency on a 999-year lease in 1886. The agreement granted full rights to the secretary of state of Tamil Nadu, a British official, to construct irrigation projects on the land. The dam was built to divert a part of the west-flowing Periyar river eastwards to feed the arid areas of Tamil Nadu. Now there is no princely state or British rule, so better forget about the 999 year lease. Only thing we need to care is the safety and  fraternity among neighboring states and mutual help by each other.

Current safety concerns relate to several issues. First, we need to understand that the dam was constructed using stone rubble masonry with lime mortar grouting, following prevailing 19th-century construction techniques that have now become archaic. As a result, seepage, cracks and leaks from the dam have caused concern.

Considering the endangered situation, the level of water in the Mullapperiyar Dam was restricted to 136 feet. Mullaperiyar dam continues to be an issue of an ongoing disagreement between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Multiple interpretations on everything from the integrity of the 1886 agreement governing its use to the project's structural safety are being questioned at various stages and platforms.

Mullaperiyar dam located above Southern Naval Command is a threat to national safety, and it should be decommissioned immediately. We cannot compromise on national security. The Kerala government is hiding this potential threat to the Navy.(Aug 26, 202).

If the Mullaperiyar Dam bursts, three reservoirs downstream Idukki, Cheruthoni, and Kolamavu would face the brutal onslaught of unleashed water. If these dams cannot hold the force, the lives of 3.5 million people living in the region will be changed forever.

In case the Dam bursts, with a water level at 136 feet, the resultant flood will submerge at least 50 square kilometers of land downstream. The thundering water would flow at the height of 36 feet, inundating buildings, uprooting trees, and filling muddy destruction all over the way.

On the other hand, Kerala contends it is not safe to raise the water level as Idukki district, where the dam is located, is earthquake-prone and has experienced multiple low-intensity quakes. Scientists, too, have said the dam cannot withstand an earthquake measuring over six on the Richter scale and that if such a calamity were to happen, the lives of more than three million people would be imperiled.

Tamil Nadu claims that though it has undertaken periodic repairs on the dam, the Kerala government has not raised the water level. As a result, it says it has suffered huge losses from not using the dam to its total capacity.

We remember that the 1979 Morvi Dam failure which killed up to 15,000 people, Kerala Government has repeatedly brought to the attention of the Supreme Court, the fear and safety concerns of the aging Mullaperiyar dam and alleged cracks and leaks in it's structure.

Kerala has abundant water resources, and they have no objection to giving it out to Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu is the only benefactor of this dam, providing sufficient water for irrigation and electric power generation.

While considering the extraordinary method of construction, everybody knows it is not safe. So many temporary fixings helped to survive the minor earthquakes and flooding. But there may not be the next time.

Both Kerala and Tamilnadu governments need to safeguard the lives and properties of millions of Keralites living under the shadow of vanishing at any time. If Tamilnadu wants to enjoy the water resources from Kerala exclusively for their use, let them build a new dam with no delay; keralites will gladly agree to it. But delaying an immediate action, can cause unexpected disasters in Kerala State. If so, the so far gentle nature of the public, may not be reflecting indeed.

Elections are over. Let this be the utmost important issue in southern India, lest humanity will never forgive the negligence of the judiciary and governments, who ignore the hazardous situation of tormenting millions of Keralites in the struggle.
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VIVIN THOMAS 2021-10-25 18:53:42
VIVIN THOMAS Sir, your article is alarming and informative too. But neither Central Govt nor local administration dont care about the perils the poor keralites are going to face in the near future. They have Monsons and Anupamas to worry about. I am not sure what is the objection in rebuilding a dangerous dam?. it is not going to be slow process, it will be a spontaneous disaster if something happens to the good old Surky Dam. Let us hope nothing happens, or you and me may not get a chance to explain or rectify. Only God knows..
BLESSON Houston 2021-10-25 22:51:21
A very informative and eye opening article. It is really raising many concerns why politicians are playing with thousands of human lives. Both government must bring an external experts to study and recommend the necessary action and both government joun together and must implemente appropriate action based on the study and help people living under constant fear. Thank you Dr. Mathew Joyse for writing such a informative post... BLESSON HOUSTON
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