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UPDATE: Alternatives needed to the Mullaperiyar dam

The Mullaperiyar Dam

The Mullaperiyar Dam

The Mullaperiyar dam is a 53-metre tall masonry gravity dam located in southern India. It was completed in 1895 on the Periyar River to divert water eastwards to the present-day state of Tamil Nadu. Although the dam is controlled and operated by Tamil Nadu, the dam is owned by and located in the state of Kerala. Kerala is now seeking to decommission the aging dam and construct a new one. In 2009, the Government of India granted environmental clearance to Kerala to conduct a survey for a new dam downstream of the Mullaperiyar. Tamil Nadu went to the Supreme Court to stop this, but the plea was rejected. Tensions have now emerged and there are reported incidents of violence against Keralites living in Tamil Nadu, and against Tamils in Kerala.

In a media release, the National Alliance of People’s Movements says, “The rising tension, passion and stray incidents of violence in Kerala and Tamilnadu over the Mullaperiyar dam on Periyar river in Kerala has once again brought the focus on the water conflicts in the country, control over natural resources of the communities and on the safety of the dam. Unfortunately, the debate is still not about the dams as source of irrigation, power generation and flood control and projecting dams as a solution. The debate though limited to the water sharing between states of Kerala and Tamilnadu fails to address the larger issue of effective management of water resources and communities control over water and natural resources.”

“Mullaperiyar is (an) ageing dam and fears of further breach and damage has increased in recent times with the seismic activity in the region. It is widely believed that the tremors in the region are influenced by the pressure of a large number of dams including Idukki and Mullaperiyar. As such, a new, larger dam in place of the existing one may actually increase the risk of seismic activity in the area. …Hence, sooner or later, alternative arrangements have to be made. Considering the possible risk of continuing with the 116 year old structure and by the application of the precautionary principle, it is better to go for alternate arrangements for irrigation in Tamilnadu areas and ways to exploit the Periyar waters should be explored on both sides as soon as possible.”

The NAPM asserts, “Dams have only destroyed the rivers and killed their flow. It is time we started thinking of alternative ways of harnessing the river water for livelihood and civilisational survival. …We have Dam Safety Bill pending before the parliament but we need this to be put to fresh scrutiny in public domain and consult all the movement and communities groups in light of the ongoing controversy and develop a dam safety agency which will take care of the aging dam population and also work towards decommissioning of these dams. Simultaneously, there is a need to put a moratorium on the large dams construction in the country anywhere. The frequent failure of large dams to provide their claimed benefits and this poor performance needs to be recognised and accepted.”

The media statement is signed by Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, Gabriele Dietrich, Prafulla Samantara, Akhil Gogoi, Geo Josh, Hussain master, Gabriele Dietrich, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Ramakrishna Raju, Anand Mazgaonkar, Vimal Bhai, and Madhuresh Kumar.

To read the complete NAPM media release, please go to http://napm-india.org/node/550.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has written about dams in both Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water and Blue Gold: The Battle Against the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water. She writes that more than forty-five thousand large dams (higher than 15 meters) have been built around the world at a cost of around US$2 trillion. Barlow notes that major dams are a source of greenhouse gas emissions, harm Indigenous peoples, cause mercury poisoning, disrupt rivers, disrupt aquatic habitat, displace people, can cause earthquakes, and can lead to water evaporation. She suggests that smaller dams can provide some benefits, but that the construction of any dam should include: transparency of process; exploration of more environmentally sound alternatives; environmental, social and economic impact assessments; accountability to local people who have the right of veto; full financial compensation to displaced persons; ecosystem protection; protection of local food supplies; guarantee of local health protection; and the inclusion of environmental and social costs in any economic forecasts. Her comments are more fully outlined at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6779.