Kerala seeks new dam, protests erupt against Tamil Nadu

(Idukki)Kerala : which is worried about the rising waters of the Mullaperiyar dam, has raised the pitch for a new dam, with strong protests being held across the state against Tamil Nadu’s opposition to its demand.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front and the rival Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are observing a dawn to dusk shutdown in Idukki district Monday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to observe a total shutdown in four districts — Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam — Tuesday.

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. And this is the problem.

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). Irrigation needs have shot up in Tamil Nadu.

Kerala, worried that a strong earthquake might damage the dam and cause widespraed destruction, is seeking a new dam and has offered to fund and build it. Tamil Nadu doesn’t agree.

Various locations in Idukki — Vandi Periyar, Kumali and Chappathu — Monday morning saw people cutting across political affiliations gathering and shouting slogans for a new dam.

At many places Left activists were seen shouting slogans against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, union ministers from Kerala A.K. Antony, Vayalar Ravi, and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and demanding that something be done immediately to save the lives of more than three million Keralites living in the districts of Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Thrissur and Ernakulam as the Mullaperiyar waters rise with heavy rains.

“Chandy should now stop his whirlwind trips crisscrossing the state and direct his full energy to making the centre convince Tamil Nadu that the only way out is a new dam at Mullaperiyar,” said CPI-M politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

Chandy stated that the central government will do the needful. “If there is a need for an all-party delegation to go to Delhi, it would be done,” he added.

Meanwhile, protestors gathered at the border near Thekkady and stopped all incoming traffic from Tamil Nadu.

For the past few days, anger among people living in and around the dam area has increased. The sudden show of strength also comes after a series of tremors hit the area, with the last one striking 30 km from the dam site Saturday morning.

Retired Justice K.T. Thomas, who is a member of the empowered committee of the Supreme Court that has been studying numerous issues raised by Tamil Nadu and Kerala, also believes that a new dam should be built.

“The next meeting of the empowered committee is taking place shortly and since the last meeting, Idukki has been affected by tremors and by all means this issue would be discussed when we meet very shortly,” said Thomas.

Idukki legislator Roshi Augustine of the Kerala Congress (Mani), an ally of the Chandy government, said it was time the central government acted fast.

“I am sitting on a daylong satyagraha in front of the Accountant General’s office. All these years we have patiently waited and things are not moving at the pace which the people in and around Idukki want. We are now hopeful that with the protests stepping up, the centre will act for a new dam,” said Augustine.

P. Rajeev, a Rajya Sabha member of the CPI-M, speaking in Delhi just before parliament sitting began Monday, said the prime minister should immediately call a meeting of the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

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