Kerala presses for new dam with demonstrations, shutdown

Thiruvananthapuram : Demonstrations for demanding a nod from Tamil Nadu for a brand new dam to replace the leaking Mullaperiyar dam continued in Kerala as well as five districts observed a complete shutdown Tuesday.

The shutdown has been called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Kerala Congress (Mani), a constituent of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

While the BJP has called for the protest at Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam, the Kerala Congress(Mani) has included the nearby Pathanamthitta district also.

These five districts would be affected the worst in case the leaking Mullaperiyar dam bursts.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerhead over the Mullaperiyar dam, built in Idukki under an 1886 accord between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile British Raj. While the dam is located in Kerala, its waters serve Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu wants the dam’s storage capacity to be increased by raising the dam height – from 136 feet (41.5 m) to 142 feet (43 m) as irrigation needs have shot up in the state.

Kerala, worried that a strong earthquake might damage the dam and cause widespread destruction, is seeking a new dam and has offered to fund and build it. But Tamil Nadu does not agree.

With passions running high in the five Kerala districts as they live in perpetual fear, the shutdown appears to be total with just private vehicles operating.

Idukki district is observing a shutdown for the second day and the border checkpost which separates the two states at Kumily continues to be closed. Barring vehicles carrying Sabarimala pilgrims, no others are allowed to cross.

“People in and around Idukki district have been living in fear as over 20 tremors have taken place since June. To express our solidarity with the people there, we reached Idukki,” said Arun Abraham from Kanjirapally in Kottayam district.

E.S. Bijimol, the local Communist Party of India (CPI) legislator from Peerumedu in Idukki district, continued his fast for the third day.

“The centre has to open its eyes. Only if one experiences the feelings and emotions of the young and old who live in this district, would they know the gravity of the situation,” Bijimol said.

State Water Resources Minister P.J. Joseph and Revenue Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan are camping in Delhi. They will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to brief him on the urgent need of his intervention.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is confident that the central government will act sooner than later.

“We should show maturity and not rough up passions because the decision of a new dam is certainly going to be a reality. This has to come by taking Tamil Nadu into full confidence. We are hopeful that all issues would be sorted out amicably,” Chandy said.

Meanwhile, Kerala Finance Minister K.M. Mani has said that in his next budget he would set aside funds for a new dam at Mullaperiyar.

“The new dam will come up 1,600 feet away from the present dam and it will cost Rs.600 crore,” Mani said.

Sources close to the Kerala government indicated that an emergency assembly session is likely to be called to discuss the issue.

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