“Dam, what 999???”, was my first reaction when I heard the name – Dam999.
I was more shocked, when I heard that the dam is located nowhere other than the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. After surfing the web, realized that Dam 999 is none other than our Mullaiperiyar dam.
How much ignorant I am to not to have known that this dam is also called Dam 999? Not only me, there are my fellow citizens, who are also not aware of this fact. Isn’t it disheartening to see that we are not aware of our very own resources?
In 1886, when British ruled India, a lease agreement was signed between Maharaja of Travancore and Secretary of State for Madras (as it was called before Independence) for a period of 999 years for irrigation works. Thus, the dam obtained the name – Dam999. A fully functional dam was built in 1895, thereby benefitting both the state of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The dam is built as an epicentre to the five districts of kerala namely, Idukki, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Alappuzha and Trishur. These districts constitute a population of nearly 35 lakhs. As per the construction, the water flowing towards west from the Periyar and Mullaiyar river is stored in the Mullai periyar dam, thereby creating a Periyar reservoir.
From the reservoir, the water has been diverted east, thereby enabling it to enter Tamil Nadu, through a tunnel, which would join Vaigai. The main objective of building the dam is to improve the irrigation facilities in Tamil Nadu, by facilitating a better water supply all throughout the year for the agricultural lands in these areas.
When the constitution of India was formulated at the time of Independence, the free nation cancelled all the agreements that were signed during the British rule. Rules changed and new rules were framed to get new agreements in place.
The lease agreement of Dam 999 was also cancelled and the efforts taken to bring a new agreement in place were never heeded. Having been at loggerheads for ages, an agreement was finally signed in 1970, after failed attempts during 1958, 1960, and 1969 by the two states.
As per the agreement, Tamil Nadu would pay Rs. 30 per acre for the land being used and Rs. 12/KW/hr for the electricity being generated from the dam. Tamil Nadu has successfully paid all the dues till date.
What made it so special about this dam to hit the headlines?
A dispute has erupted between both the states for several decades regarding the stability & water-level in the dam. Even after set-up of so many committees and intervention of the state and central government or even the Supreme Court, a consensus has not been reached till date.
The state of Tamil Nadu wants the level of water storage in the dam to increase from 136ft to 142ft, which is being opposed by Kerala.
Is it dangerous to increase the water level by 1.82mt (6ft)?
Are the low mathematical figures of 1.82 or 6 has got huge hidden meaning in it?
The answer lies with Nature and the Keralite’s are acting accordingly. The dam has been built 100 years ago using the raw materials of yester years, which means stability of the dam is at stake.
Also, the Centre for Earth Sciences have mentioned that the dam is in the weak zone and an earth quake of magnitude higher than six in Richter scale is possible in this area. Any natural disaster like this would lead to the development of fissures and cracks in the dam.
As the saying goes, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link”, the dam would stand, as long as these cracks are able to hold till repair work is done. The earthquake could be compared to a ticking time bomb, which could create a mass destruction leading to the destruction of the districts nearby, thereby posing a serious threat to the lives of 35lakh people living in this region.
Isn’t there any alternative to the loggerhead?
A proposal has been suggested to build an alternate dam in the same site, which could still meet the demands of Tamil Nadu. Even though the construction of the new dam takes time, it looks like the best alternative at hand right now.
The TN government has its own concerns saying that a new dam would not fulfil its water demands, as the water flow might be less than what is assured. This has led to a standstill in the activities related to the dam.
On the other hand, Kerala government wants a new dam to be built on the same site for the protection of its people in the five adjacent districts, before the collapse of the existing dam.
This issue is one among the hot topics being discussed in the current winter session of parliament. One of the latest developments is the request for CISF by TN to prevent any unexpected sabotage to the dam by the miscreants.
What we notice is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lot many hidden issues, which we are not aware of. It is better to reach a consensus as soon as possible before a tragedy of mass scale occurs.
I would like to mention a quote by a famous person, "If everyone remembers a tragedy, then what is the issue in taking precautions to prevent such tragedy in future?"