The 126-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam has always been a sensitive issue as it involves not only Kerala but also Tamil Nadu. There exists a lease indenture for 999 years between the Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma, Maharaja of Travancore, and the British Secretary of State for India for Periyar Irrigation Works. This lease was made in 1886 and both the states still uphold the contract.
The issue pertaining to the dam always props up during periods of horrendous rains in Kerala. As of now, the water level in the dam has reached 136 feet and, as such, the Tamil Nadu Government has issued the first warning. The current water level is close to the 142 feet capacity of the dam.
Why is the Mullaperiyar Dam a ticking bomb?
Mullaperiyar Dam is one of the oldest standing dams in the world. It’s a surprise that the dam has stood the test of time, but it’s not going to for long. In addition to that, it is located in a seismic zone III where earthquakes of maximum intensity of VII of MM scale tend to occur. Many studies conducted concluded that the Mullaperiyar dam has to be decommissioned. Even the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health has highlighted the weak structure of the dam.
When the dam was initially constructed, the intended lifespan was just a mere 50 years. Even though the dam still stands tall, it has structural flaws that can lead to the destruction of property and deaths. Nearly, 3.5 million lives will be affected. If and when the Mullaperiyar dam breaks, the downstream Idukki dam may also be overtopped. The catastrophe is unimaginable.
In 2015, the Supreme Court permitted the rise of the dam’s water level from 142 feet to 152 feet. This was allowed under the consideration that the dam would undergo construction to sturdy the structure. Considering the developmental impacts on the environment (in the form of horrendous floods), the court should reconsider its decision before it is too late.
Machhu II Dam Collapse
The Machhu dam disaster of 1979 in Gujarat is a grave example of what can happen when a dam collapses. It’s one of the worst dam-related, environmental disasters ever.
10 days of incessant rainfall and flooding in the area caused the earthen dam to disintegrate. In fact, the floodgates of the dam, which was designed for the passage of 220,000 cusecs of water, received an inflow of 400,000 cusecs. Unable to withstand the pressure, the dam collapsed. In a matter of minutes, the surrounding areas were flooded with a water level of 12 to 30 ft in height. It resulted in the loss of lives, livelihood, and property. There were repeated warnings and reports proposed to the Government. But no action was taken.
This is just one of the many examples that show the kind of disaster a dam can bring.
One of the solutions to the Mullaperiyar issue is to construct a new dam. In 2015, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan shared that this would be the ideal solution to ensure that there’s “water for Tamil Nadu and safety for Kerala”. The Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments should work together to ensure that the future of the people is safeguarded. It’s time we decommission Mullaperiyar Dam.