PJ Joseph, Kerala water resources minister and crusader for a new dam at Mullaperiyar, on Saturday termed as a distortion of facts Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa's full-page advertisement in newspapers here claiming that the land mafia was behind the move to reduce water level in the dam.
In the "appeal", the chief minister has said that the "water spread" area around the 116-year-old dam has been encroached upon by land mafia, who were opposing the move to raise the water level.
"The water spread area has been encroached upon by land grabbers in Kerala who have built resorts and other buildings on the lands leased to Tamil Nadu. If the water level is increased from 136 feet, these resorts will get submerged and this is also cited by some as the possible reason for the plea to decommission the Mullaperiyar dam," reads her statement.
Addressing reporters, Joseph said her 'appeal' is not true.
"Her statement that the demand to reduce the water level is to save the land mafia is totally wrong. It is unfortunate that she has questioned the real intention of the people in Kerala because all are aware of the dangers that the present dam poses to them. We are confident that the apex court will allow us to reduce the water level from the present 136 feet to 120 feet," said Joseph.
Jayalalithaa's appeal comes a day after the Kerala assembly unanimously passed a resolution that the central government should sanction a new dam to replace the leaking Mullaperiyar in Idukki district.
This is the third unanimous resolution passed by the Kerala assembly demanding a new dam. The first was passed in 1993 when K. Karunakaran of the Congress was chief minister and the next one in 2009 when VS Achuthanandan of the CPI-M was heading the government.
Friday's session was specially convened to discuss the dam issue.
Union defence minister AK Antony, currently touring the state, told reporters on Saturday that the centre cannot dictate anything to any state.
"It is only the courts that can give a direction to a state, and what the centre can do is to request," Antony told reporters at Kannur.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the dam, built under an 1886 accord between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile British Raj. It is located in Kerala and its waters also serve Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu wants the dam's storage capacity increased by raising the dam height from 136 feet (41.5 metre) to 142 feet (43 metre) as the state's irrigation needs have shot up.
Kerala is worried that a strong earthquake might damage the dam and cause widespread destruction. It is seeking a new dam and has offered to fund and build it, but Tamil Nadu does not agree.
Experts say if a quake strikes and the dam is damaged, over four million people and their property in districts of Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and parts of Thrissur would be washed away.