Damned if you don't
The Centre must immediately intervene in the Mullaperiyar dam quarrel.india Updated: Nov 27, 2011 22:26 IST
India is one; Kerala and Tamil Nadu are parts of it. With minor tremors last week resulting in small cracks appearing at various points in the 115-year-old Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala's Idukki district, it is time that a new dam is constructed without further delay.
Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is under the administration of the Tamil Nadu government since the land on which it stands has been given on lease to Tamil Nadu for 999 years. Kerala wants a new dam to be built, citing that the lifespan of the existing Mullaperiyar dam has expired. The government in Chennai, however, wants its height to be raised, referring to a Supreme Court-appointed committee that has declared the dam safe.
There is actually no legal or constitutional dispute between the two states. However, a colossal calamity is being allowed to become a real possibility if the construction of a new dam does not start immediately. History will never forgive the ministers of either state - or of the Centre - for being indifferent to the real risks of a massive, intractable inundation.
The overwhelming majority of India has no voice. Neither do they have access to expertise that can warn them about such things and suggest solutions. Parl-iament and the Union Cabinet have both. When Kerala water resources minister PJ Joseph stated last week that the state government wanted the Centre to "intervene", I was shocked at the pathos of the Kerala administration - chief minister Oommen Chandy helplessly shed tears and Delhi remained callously deaf.
The power in the hands of the central government to resolve this crisis and to avert a disaster is overwhelming. To fail a generation of Malayalees and Tamils - a generation of Indians - by not quickly solving this imbroglio will be truly worth condemnation.
A grave geological notice through seismic tremors is telling everyone not to delay the construction of a new Mullaperiyar dam. At stake is the lives and livelihoods of millions of Indians. A squabble between politicians in Tamil Nadu and Kerala shouldn't jeopardise them.
VR Krishna Iyer is a former Supreme Court judge. The views expressed by the author are personal.