The full-page advertisement under Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s signature, appearing in the national dailies today, makes a reference to the interests of land grabbers in Kerala in the Mullaperiyar dam controversy.
Following the concerns voiced by Kerala over the safety of the dam, the reservoir level has been kept at 136 feet for the last few years although the optimum level envisaged was 156 feet. After the Tamil Nadu government carried out certain repairs, which were recommended by the Central Water Commission, the Supreme Court had allowed it in 2006 to raise the level to 142 feet. The court said the level could be raised further after further works were carried out.
The Kerala government immediately got the Assembly to amend the Irrigation and Water Conservation Act to fix the maximum water level at 136 feet. The Tamil Nadu government questioned the validity of the law before the Supreme Court. Its petition is still pending before the court.
In the advertisement, Jayalalithaa states, “It is …reported that when the water level at Mullaperiyar Dam is 136 feet, the water spread area is 4678 acres and that if the water is stored to 155 feet, the water spread area will be 8591 acres. Since water has not been stored above 136 feet for a long time, 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 in water. This is also cited by some as the possible reason for the plea to decommission the Mullaperiyar Dam.”
We who know well about the activities of land grabbers and their political links cannot dismiss her statement as mere grist to Tamil Nadu’s propaganda mill.
Revenue Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan told the Kerala Assembly on Friday that rough estimates of the likely damage in the event of a dam break showed that 21,540 people would be directly in the danger zone where the time would be too short for rescue operations and 1,28,460 people more would be affected in the evacuation zone.
Quite obviously the figure of loss of three million to four million lives bandied about by he and his colleagues during the past few days was a gross exaggeration. Those who made such irresponsible statements must not only be kicked out of the government but also prosecuted for spreading rumours.
The ministers who have been most actively building up a scare by painting a doomsday scenario belong to a party which has always vehemently championed the cause of forest encroachers. As the aborted Munnar eviction campaign of the last few years has shown, land grabbers and their patrons are there in all the major parties.
In these circumstances, Jayalalithaa’s allegation needs to be examined. Considering the influence of land grabbers across the political spectrum there is no point in asking the government of Kerala to conduct an investigation and place the facts before the public. Civil society must set up an independent people’s tribunal to ascertain the facts.
One question that legitimately arises is why did Tamil Nadu allow the leased land in its possession to be grabbed by resort builders. The short answers is that those who bribe politicians and officials of Kerala can bribe those of Tamil Nadu as well.