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VOL. XXII NO. 5, June 16-31, 2012
Our Readers Write

Another view on the Mullaperiyar dam

The complete river above Mullaperiyar Dam, including the dam and reservoir, and the full catchment area of about 600 are within the boundaries of Kerala. But it is a fact that Neerar, another tributary of the Periyar, which joins the main river much lower than even Idukki, has its origin in Tamil Nadu. Thus out of the total Periyar catchment area of 5222, 115 is in Tamil Nadu.

According to the 1886 agreement, Tamil Nadu has only leasement rights over the dam, reservoir and its waters, but not ownership. In 1882-83, there was a proposal for the outright selling of 8000 acres of land and waters to the Madras Government for a cash payment of Rs. 7 lakh and transfer of the British enclaves Anjengo and Tangassery to Travancore. The lease agreement was signed in 1886, only after such proposals and counter-proposals and prolonged discussions. At that point of time, nobody had perhaps heard about ecology or environment, But the present point of view is that diversion of water from the catchment of the Arabian Sea to that of the Bay of Bengal is a great offence against Nature.

When completed in 1895, the dam was of 155 ft height (expected maximum flood level) and the full reservoir level was at 144 ft (sill of overflow). In 1908, the solid level of the spillway was reduced from 144 ft to 136 ft and ten flood gates, each 36 ft wide and 16 ft high, were installed, raising the FRL to 152 ft.

A dispute regarding the agreement erupted as early as 1937, when the Madras Government proposed to generate electricity from the diverted waters. Travancore objected. The case went on for long and, finally, was decided in favour of Travancore; it was ruled that Madras had no right to use the water for any purpose other than irrigation as contemplated in the 1886 agreement. Subsequently, in 1970, a supplementary agreement was signed between the Tamil Nadu and Kerala Governments permitting Tamil Nadu to generate electricity on payment to Kerala at Rs. 12 per kilowatt year, up to 350 million kilowatt hours, and at Rs. 18 for electricity generated beyond 350 million units in a year. The lease rent of the land was also increased from the previous Rs.5 to Rs. 30 per acre.

In the wake of the Machu Dam failure in 1979, causing the destruction of Morvi town and death of about 1800 people, Kerala became apprehensive regarding the safety of the ageing and leaking Mullaperiyar Dam and the matter was referred to the Government of India and Central Water Commission. After several inspections and studies the CWC directed lowering the FRL to 136 ft and carrying out various measures to strengthen the dam and also to increase the spillway capacity by adding three more vents of 40 by 16 ft. These measures have been more or less carried out and, as it stands now, the dam can be considered safe.

The life of a dam depends greatly on maintenance and upkeep. Mullaperiyar dam has been maintained well from the time of construction. In the unlikely event of the dam collapsing, it will be more disastrous to Tamil Nadu than to Kerala.

Though some very old dams are still in existence, there have been many instances of failure of old as well as new dams. None of the Roman Dams was of significance and they were less than 40 ft in height. But their aquaducts for conveying water were remarkable. The ten dams said to be in operation for over 300 years are of insignificant height compared to the Mullaperiyar Dam.

The Kerala Government asserts that even with the proposed new dam, the present supply of water will be retained. As such, the FRL of the proposed Dam will be higher than 136 ft and there will be no difficulty in the diversion of water as the inlet of the tunnel is at 104 ft. The life of a dam and reservoir project is determined not by fixing the longevity of the structure, but by estimating how long the reservoir will be of use as it will be gradually filled up due to settlement of silt. Considering the long period of lease, the dead storage was fixed at up to 104 ft, the inlet level of the outlet tunnel. Fortunately, the rate of silting in Mullaperiyar reservoir is much less than what was contemplated earlier. The storage between 104 and 80 ft contours is a fraction of that above 104 ft. As such, the lowering of the intake tunnel will not be of much benefit, taking also into account the reduction of head in generating electricity.

Constructing a new dam/spillway of about 80 ft height, creating a protective reservoir downstream of the present dam will considerably reduce the active pressure on the present dam and make it much more safe. Such a dam can be constructed at a cost less than one-fourth of that of a 150 ft dam. This proposal will considerably reduce the additional submergence of lands and forests. The lower reservoir can also be used for fish culture and tourist facilities.

Prof. Subramaniam in his article (MM, May 16th) stated the benefits to the respective states as Rs. 600 crore for Tamil Nadu and Rs.1913 crore plus Rs. 300 crores for Kerala. The diverted waters irrigate about 2.3 lakh arid lands in Tamil Nadu. Besides this huge amount, also assessed at about Rs. 370 crore received by the agriculturists from the increased food production, the Tamil Nadu Government gets lakhs of rupees as water cess. Against this, the amount paid by Tamil Nadu to Kerala is Rs. 2.58 lakh annually on the lease of 8100 acres. An average of 422 million units of electricity is produced from the diverted waters. For this Rs. 6,40,600 is paid to Kerala as royalty, while Tamil Nadu, at the average rate of Rs. 5 per unit, collects Rs.211 crore. About one-third of this may have to be spent towards production and transmission costs. The supplies of products like vegetables, meat, etc. purchased from Tamil Nadu are not gifts to Kerala. They are commercial deals and, in fact, if Kerala is not purchasing them, Tamil Nadu agriculturists and merchants will get only very much lower prices for their products.

By commendable efforts and methodical operational efficiency, Tamil Nadu has been able to increase the ayacut of 1.7 lakh acres in the pre-1979 years, when the FRL was 152 ft, to the present 2.3 lakh acres even with FRL at 136 ft. The Mullaperiyar diversion offers far higher benefits, to whomsoever it may be, than would have been possible in Kerala.

A.M. Mathew
Chief Engineer, PWD (Retd)
Baker Hill
Kottayam 686 001

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This correspondence is now closed.)

More to be done

The following information about the Mullaiperiyar Dam (MM, May 16th) may be of some interest. The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908 (Madras, Vol II, pp 252-253), at the close of its entry on the Periyar Project, had this to say: "The most important problem that now remains is concerned with the extension of the system, by forming a second reservoir in which to store the surplus water which still runs to waste."

So, a lot of homework still needs to be done, even after more than a century, regarding the storage in the dam and its safety. All the data left by Major (later Colonel) John Pennycuick and his forerunners, Capt J.G. Ryves and Capt J.L. Caldwell, when re-examined could contribute a lot to the spirit of cordiality (minus politics) that needs to be promoted between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley
St. Luke's Church,
Kotagiri 643 217
The Nilgiris

Growing congestion

The State Government recently announced the proposed setting up of five new factories around Chennai with an investment of Rs. 6000 crore with direct employment potential for 10,000 people.

During the last 10-15 years many large industrial projects, I.T. parks, industrial parks, auto-related projects, etc. have been established in and around Chennai, creating tens of thousands of employment opportunities, resulting in migration of large sections of people from the districts to Chennai and suburbs. As such congestions (of people and vehicles) continue to grow, and problems of large-scale pollution, severe shortages of essentials like water, sanitation, public transport, housing, parking space, etc. have arisen. To reduce the congestion:

  • The Chennai Municipal Corporation may consider ways of giving permits to purchase cars only to people having private parking space, as is being done in Beijing, China.
  • The Government may consider taking a policy decision not to allow location of new industrial projects around Chennai, but to disperse them in the districts by providing the requisite infrastructure and incentives, so as to discourage people from migrating to already congested Chennai.

The State Government's recent Vision 2023 document provides for the creation of four or five large cities in the hinterland. The implementation of this recommendation should be given first priority as this will greatly reduce migration of people into the Chennai region.

J.W. Thomas
9, Ritherdon Road
Chennai 600 007

The best use

What should be done to spaces beneath the flyovers (MM, May 16th)? There should be no second thought: they should be used for public toilets, the biggest civic need of Chennai. If the Highways Department needs some space for their maintenance crew, they may take a portion of one wing, but the rest should be for toilets.

I suggest:

  1. The space under every flyover should have toilets for men and women and some space to park vehicles, carts, etc.
  2. The facility should be free and no fee should be charged.
  3. They should have good supply of water, 24 hours.
  4. They should be constructed and maintained by corporate houses. The maintenance should be round the clock. Neither the Corporation nor any outsourced contractors should maintain them.
  5. Telephone numbers to lodge complaints should be prominently displayed and any complaint should be rectified within an hour.
  6. Tax benefits can be extended by the Central/State Government to the corporate houses for providing and maintaining the facility.
  7. The sponsors can utilise the wall space of the toilets for their advertising.

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan
Secretary, Venus Civic Exnora
20, Murray's Gate Road
Chennai 600 018

Confusing coins

Reader B. Gautham has raised an important point (MM, June 1st) about the confusing coins. The same situation prevailed in 1994 and I, as Secretary, Consumer Affairs, wrote a letter to the Joint Secretary in charge of this subject in the Department of Economic Affairs to issue coins of different sizes and colours as in the past. Nothing happened. Often, the officers in the DEA do not attach much importance to letters from other departments, particularly those like Consumer Affairs!

After about a year, I moved to tourism and visited Mexico to sign an agreement on tourism promotion between the two countries. Our Ambassador in Mexico City told me that the Joint Secretary from DEA was there and had left only the previous day. The Ambassador also told me that the particular officer was there to inspect the coins which were being produced there according to our order. I told our Ambassador that I wished I had been there a day earlier to tell the JS again about the consumers' problem and get him to do something on the spot! (These coins are produced perhaps even now in other countries according to international tenders as well as in the GOI Mint.)

Mercifully, the new five rupee coin is of different colour. When my wife complains even now that officials cannot do even these simple things, I tell her that I cannot complain about it because I was a part of this system myself.

Dr. G. Sundaram, IAS (rtd)
(Former Secretary to the GOI)
A-601, 'Dugar Aparments'
Keshav Perumal Puram
Greenways Road, Chennai 600 008

Information wanted

Even after doing a detailed search, I have not been able to find complete information regarding the broken bridge across the mouth of the Adyar River. When was it built and when did it get damaged? All I know is that it was badly damaged during the monsoons, I guess in the 1980s.

Akhilnandh Ramesh
11/8, Kumar's Brindavan
2nd Main Road, Kasturiba Nagar,
Adyar, Chennai 600 020

A tragic failure

Standard Motors (SMPI) was one of the three pioneers among Indian auto makers in the 1960s (MM, June 16th). It is indeed tragic that it floundered and, finally, closed down owing to bad management, poor decisions and lack of foresight that failed to take into account the future of the auto industry in India, while its peers, such as Ashok Leyland, Enfield, Tata Motors and TAFE, among others, have prospered.

Properly handled, it would have been a pillar of today's "Indian Detroit". As things turned out, it failed its investors too.

One should not speak of Maruti and SMPI in the same breath, for, despite its teething problems, Maruti has come out with flying colours, capturing the bulk of the Indian auto market by its ingenuity, foresight and innovation in research and design, among other admirable factors.

K.P. Mahalingam
6-B, The Peninsula
778, Poonamalle High Road
Chennai 600 010

Taylor turned tailor?

Just a small mistake in spelling can distort the whole truth. One example is the way Taylor's Road is spelt on the road signboard at the junction of the road on the left near the signal point. It is spelt Tailors Road. It's a wonder that it has remained unnoticed for years.

I hope it is rectified soon.

C.S. Baskar
17, Ramarao Road
Mylapore, Chennai 600 004

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In this issue

Welcome restoration approach by Government
Garbage collection plans go awry again
Looking back
Driving Down Memory Lane
Masters of 20th Century Madras science
Three looks at heritage
There's heritage in idlis & sundal
The plight and the challenge
More Iyengars of cricket
Butterfly tricks

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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