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Much ado about nothing

According to its study, six dams around the world should be decommissioned due to age.

SNS | New Delhi |

The recent spate of petitions in the Supreme Court and scare-mongering media reports in Kerala are much ado about nothing. The existence of the 126-year-old Mullaiperiyar dam built and maintained by the Tamil Nadu government on leased land in Kerala has been an eyesore to the politicians in the State who would like to have it decommissioned at the earliest.

Water from the dam is the lifeline of people in five districts of Tamil Nadu for drinking purposes and irrigation. Only on 26 October Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Kerala Assembly that scare-mongers were spreading rumours of an imminent threat to the Mullaiperiyar dam on social media. He denied any such threat existed.

Kerala was in close coordination with Tamil Nadu in regulating water levels in the Mullaiperiyar. Meanwhile, the Kerala government submitted before the Supreme Court that the Mullaiperiyar dam was extremely vulnerable due to its age, large catchment area and limited storage capacity. The dam has a built-in capacity to store up to 152 ft, but it has been fixed at 142 by the Supreme Court by its orders of 2004 and 2008.

The submission said it was a composite gravity dam and that seismic forces were not taken into consideration while constructing the dam. They have in no way affected the dam all these 126 years. “The consequences of any failure of this dam could be extremely catastrophic and beyond human imagination. The apprehensions of the government of Kerala regarding the life and safety of more than 30 lakh people of five districts residing downstream of the dam has to be given due importance and consideration,” the submission said.

Such risks are common to any dam. Another grievance of the Kerala government is the Mullaiperiyar reservoir having a large catchment area of 624 sq km in its territory. The logical next step, according to Kerala, was to decommission the Mullaiperiyar dam and reconstruct a new dam.

With a view to strengthening the Kerala government stand, a citizen by name Joe Joseph, with a few other Keralites, has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court quoting an ‘academic’ paper published by a little-known private institution called United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, located in Hamilton, Canada.

According to its study, six dams around the world should be decommissioned due to age. Four have been decommissioned; two remain, including Mullaiperiyar. The curricula of this so-called UN University do not include any engineering subjects but include topics like domestic water treatment and management, marine fisheries, fisheries management, ponds and tanks, waste management and the like of a Polytechnique.

Taking serious note of the situation, a Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar directed Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati directed all concerned to interact urgently and to take decisions regarding water level to be maintained.

“This is not a political arena where you will debate, it is about people’s lives. Do something constructive,” the Bench observed. The ASG informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday the Supervisory Committee appointed by the Supreme Court was monitoring the water level on an hourly basis and that no further action was needed.