Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mullai Periyar - my thoughts

In a blog post earlier in 2008, I had lamented about Hogenakkal water issue that came to trouble the farmers of Tamil Nadu. Like most of the water issues that has befallen on TN, it also, unfortunately, had to deal with excesses from the neighboring sister states.

In that post, I had explained in simpler terms 3 things:

1) Geography of TN is such that it is the lowest state in the Indian subcontinent and it depends on water from top to flow down to its borders.

2) How, sister states have started building more dams and reservoirs within their borders to hold more water and use TN as a conduit ONLY when they have all they need and more. Their demands have increased due to increased urban population, which needs water to drink. No denial in that but what will the poor farmer in the downstream do if he doesn't get the water?

3) How, TN also has faulted in not taking care of the small ponds and ground water resources within its soil.

I titled that post as "Now it is Hogenakkal - what next and what more?expressing my exhaustion at all these water issues the state of TN has to go through every time, time and again. But, never have I ever expected that another issue would come to trouble this water starved land even more.

The facts about TN, which is not very well know to people outside of this state are given below.

1) The most Urban state in the India (more than 50% of this state lives in Urban-semiUrban areas). They live in all these areas for the lack of water to do vegetation in rural areas.

2) The state with less than the national average of mandatory Tree cover. Please see the link for the same.

3) If rains fail, even for one season, the whole of TN faces drinking water shortage. That is the hard fact. If rains fail one season, there will be water shortage in all cities and towns across TN. Last few years 7-8 years had been beneficial for TN, in terms of rain fall - it has had expected rain fall, not excess, just expected. And, we are happy for that. But it has never been that way before that - famine and drought have occurred in regular interval for every 2 years all through last 2-3 decades.

4) It is well captured by the this movie (1981) - just the introduction of this move captures the essence of the situation. Just see first 3 -4 minutes, you will know the enormity of the issue back then that director Balachander took a movie on this.

Coming to Mullai Periyar, it is a river that originates within TN-kerala border, and flowing westwards and flowing in to the ocean. In order to prevent the Famine and drought, dating even back to 18 the century (and also continuing as shown in the above scene), The Mullai periyar dam is envisioned and constructed to hold the water and push it back to TN via Gravity mechanism as the dam is perched at a height to do that. That is how it works and British designed it that way.

I don't want to elaborate on the how the Dam is built or how the deals were made back in those days. As enough has already been said about it.

But, I do want to talk about the safety issue. Lime may not be the strongest building substance known to mankind, but it has withstood the time for 100 years before Kerala govt brought any concerns. Agreed. Concerns have to be addressed. And, it was addressed with strengthening of that dam in three stages and completed by TN. And, in 2006, Supreme court, highest court in Indian constitution gave a verdict asking TN to raise the water level to 142. The dam is safe. And, restricted Kerala govt and police to prevent any obstacle for TN for further maintenance of dam. 

Immediately after this - Kerala made amendments to its existing Rule/law of 2003 saying no govt- state or Central or no court can control this law. And, by their law, they determine the height of dam as 136 ft. And, kerala has full control over that Dam. That is outrageous to an honorable contract that is in place, reviewed again in 1971.

I understand that there have been tremors (count of which has to be verified) in this year and people are really worried about the dam safety. Again, a valid concern. It has to be addressed appropriately. Appropriate is checking if dam is strong again by today's standards and by neutral folks. Technical and otherwise. Then, let us see the next course of action. 

Questions to Kerala:

1) Why did you refuse to agree to highest court in India in 2006 and agree to that order? 

2) Coming to present day, Tremors happened, but let us wait for a proper study. Before that, why to arouse the fear of people more even before the strength of dam is tested again?

I have Keralite friends all over my life. I like the Kerala girls too for their long hair and munda kannu (big big eyes :D ). And, Keralites and Tamilian are one of the closely associated people of India, with barely no or very less difference between them. So, I value their life, in the down stream. Their fear after the recent tremores is valid and living with fear is worst than living at all. I can empathize with the situation. But, to add more fear stating dam will collapse, is not the right step forward for a govt. It can be the agenda of rumor mongers but not of responsible elected people of a state. They should be pacified and we should wait for a neutral, valid, technical study and have to see what to do next.

Also, no structure in the world, is designed to withstand mother nature fury. We can only hope it is and prepare for the worst and leave it at that. And, in case of Mullai Periyar dam, that preparation was also done by strengthening and we have to leave it at that. God forbid any worst eventuality, the downstream river bunds are high enough to hold the water flowing at full level (per what I read about the river bunds down stream) and Idukki dam can withhold the overflown water. The loss of lives as feared by people may not happen at all.

The intentions of Kerala govt, as expressed by it as safety may not be the real issue here. If one looks back at this issue from last 30 years, one can see a pattern. They revoked rights established by that contract one by one including right of TN on the entire stream and the fishing right, right of TN to determine the water height in the dam and various other rights that were part of the original deal. Now, the only thing that is left standing is the Dam and they want to remove that also. Why? So that TN's right on anything will not be left there. 

Why don't they say that Dam is weak, we will build a new dam and give you back the same contract and deal as before? Your only concern was safety, right? Why don't you say that way? Coz, it is not entirely about safety. Underneath the safety bandwagon, lies the human ego and the need to establish rights over something on the kerala border. This is infact not even human trait, this is animal trait - territorial rights and demarcation. Humans are all animals and I didn't quote animal traits to demean Kerala govt nor the people of Kerala. Coz, all humans including TN folks, Andhara and America and everybody have this territorial behavior. If not, how can we define the wars we have fought over ever since we came in to being in to this land. I quoted that human character to just establish that it may not be safety at issue here but something more which is control and rights of property in Kerala land. And, even that character comes to Humans from Animals as we are all one. :)

If we get this reason behind all these clear, even a TN folk will not feel so much hatred or animosity towards Keralite due to this issue. And, vice versa. One fighting for territory, another fighting for resource. We have to accept this is human, to avoid falling victims to hating and hitting each other.

Now, how do I see this issue pan out?

1) Supreme court will again come out with a valid technical detail and the Dam wil be saved.

2) Else, if they find issue, technical or anything, considerable steps need to be determined to establish the safety of Dam again.

3) If it is found to be so grave as portrayed by Kerala - let Supreme court say so. Lets see the next steps after that. TN, would still like to follow Supreme court order; Unlike Karnataka which is not following the order on Cauvery. Kerala which didn't follow on Mullai Periyar.

If some mishap of Kerala govt or otherwise would happen to the DAM or some miscommunication lead to a bad decisions or policies of Central or Kerala govt that would result in TN being snatched of its right to water - I foresee the following.

- TN will block any goods to Kerala from within its border
- TN will stake a claim for bringing the Idukki district to be with in TN. Change the border so that TN shall claim full responsibility for the down stream people. Request and voices in this direction are already being heard in TN. If UP can redraw its state to 4 different states, why can't we revisit the border issue with Central govt so that Kerala govt can feel the pressure of them on the safety issue.

At a humanitarian level, a land, that is once the rice bed of India, the land that gave three yields of rice (unlike any other land in the world) would be left to dry by people who claim to be sister states but refuse to give water for TN. Tamilnadu is already one of the dry beds of India.

Govt of India, better watch out - this will be a wake up call for integrity of the nation itself. If two states (Karnataka and Kerala) can disobey the supreme court order and another (AP) building dams across Palar river to let less and less water to TN, where is the Unity in diversity or Integrity of the nation?

Where are your policies? Isn't water a universal requirement of all people? Shouldn't that be under control of central govt? Instead of state govt which has obligation with only that state?

These issues need to be discussed; water rich states will never understand the seriousness of this issue being faced in down south.

Let me end this by saying this much. I'm not a farmer. Neither my dad is. Or, my grandparents. I have never lived outside of Chennai while in TN. But, if I can feel the gross cumulative atrocities and injustice handed out to state of TN in water issues this much, imagine the rage of a farmer who is ploughing the field for his life? Imagine the bleak future that is dawning on them? Imagine the rage and plight of his son.

Below is the video of Vaiko - I'm posting his video coz I find his speech to be based on facts and listed without any bias. He is even requesting Kerala people to see the new dam approach will not lead to the water through Gravity mechanisms. A very neutral speech with facts from TNPWD engineers on stage. (please see all three parts of the video)

What we ask is Water (and the honoring of existing contract; contract leads to obligation and we will only oblige when we have a contract as this is a multi centuries trust) and what will be ensured is safety and precautionary steps of dam and emergency mitigation steps. 

Fear psychosis will lead to more fear. More "if else" question will come and it is a never ending cycle. What it needs is better awareness and a assured plan for any contingency. Slowly, life will move on without fear.

But life cannot, without water - the elixir of life.