Arguments and counter arguments and solution to impasse

Let’s now proceed to see the common charges and counter charges being traded between the media/ people of two states and in online discussion forums. This proceeds with Kerala charge and TN return allegation format, as the respondents in this case are TN people.

  1. Old lease agreement is unjust at 999 years, colonial and hence such an agreement needs to go and a fresh one is needed.

Reply . The counter runs, that the agreement has been upheld by SC, it was also renewed by the two states in 1970.

TN further points that only reason why it let go of Peermede and Devikulam taluks in which this dam lies during SRC despite these taluks being 65%-75%  tamil population was because of gentleman understanding on TN’s right to own, maintain and operate the dam across Mullaiperiyar.

 2.Old lease agreement is unjust with regards to monetary compensation to kerala.

Reply points out that these areas were completely inaccessible from Travancore side, and was undeveloped region and even dam construction happened suffering extreme duress and hence the monetary compensation in 1886 was justified.

In 1970, while monetary compensation was suitably increased, TN had also surrendered rights over fishing, tourism, and security of dam. This contributes major significant revenue to kerala.  Hence it is wrong to state monetary compensation is little. Many have even suggested increased monetary compensation and even transfer of equivalent power to kerala  as produced in lower camp.

 3,Dam is 116 yrs old masonry dam and that its initial life was 50 yrs.

Reply  : Life of a dam is subjective to its maintenance and strengthening over the course of time. Chigali dam, karnataka is an example of new dam collapse. There are numerous dams in Europe and USA that are over 100 and even 300-400 years. Kallanai reservoir itself stands the test of time. Newer dams have failed due to improper maintenance. Googling Dams from beginning will give a nice detail of very old dams surviving till this date.

 4. Old dams cannot be strengthened and have to be decommissioned.

Reply  : As pointed above it is far from truth.  Roosevelt dam in the USA state of Arizona is a shining example on this.

Theodre Roosvelt dam is the the world’s highest masonry dam, conceived in 1889, approved in 1903, was started in 1906 and completed in 1911. Its 289 feet high and 723 feet in length.

In the 1960’s this dam was even made a National historic landmark. In 1980’s under dam safet projects, modifications were designed so that it met safety standards and flood control affairs. This was carried out after engineers determined issues with safe release under maximum flood and maximum credible earthquake occurrence near dam.  Problems included weak mortar joints, cracks and faults in the underlying bedrock, and numerous old tunnels that had to be plugged in its foundation.

The dam was resurfaced with concrete.  Modifications to Roosevelt Dam now allow drainage to the dam’s foundation to protect against earthquake failure, along with added low-level outlet capacity

The dam now has a structural height of 357 feet and a crest length of 1,210 feet.

Hence we can see in the case of Roosevelt dam, that it was of similar age masonry dam that too rubble, faced similar problems, and has now been strengthened for earthquake and even has huge expanded capacity.

Joux dam , a French masonry structure of slender profile dating from 1905, has been heightened in 1952 by a top concrete section and post-tension anchors . Rockfill buttressing was used in 1983 to replace the post-tension anchors that were weakened by corrosion. Upper Glendevon gravity dam  in U.K. has been provided with a rockfill buttress on its downstream face to improve its seismic stability that was considered inadequate specially in the presence of leaking vertical monolith joints and horizontal construction joints leading to significant uplift pressures

Safety – Strengthening works carried  out in MP dam:

The safety work carried out in case of Mullaiperiyar is almost similar. In the old dam  front and back of the dam are constructed as a Lime based Stone structure. The centre of dam was filled with concrete and mortar.  Gravity dam withstands the pressure of water and tremors using its weight. Gravity dams are among the safest dam designs and in india almost all dams are of this type only. Idukki dam is one and only arch dam.

As a short term action, to increase the weight of dam, 21 feet wide, 3 feet thick RCC capping structure was created on top of the dam for its entire length. Due to this, the weight of the dam is increased by 35 tonne per metre, i.e. totally 12000 tonne weight has been added to the structure.

As a part of medium term action, cable anchoring was done on the basis of Pre-stressing technology.At a distance of 5 feet away from front of dam on top surface, 4 inch dia holes were drilled throughout the structure upto a distance of 30 feet inside earth.

Inside these holes, 34 numbers of 7 mm thick high strength wires were stranded together and inserted. To support these cables on foundation rocks, intially concrete was poured to a depth of 20 feet and then cables were inserted from top at a force of 120 tonnes. In this stage, concrete mix is poured again to fill the hole and then it is closed at the top. Due to this, these prestressed cables hold the dam strongly with foundation rocks with a force of 120 tonnes. 95 such cables were inserted and concrete filled at a distance of 9 feet for the entire length of the dam and strengthened to withstand tremors. This is nothing but pre tension anchoring.

As a long term measure a 32 feet wide RCC structure with 10 feet deep foundation upto a height of 145 feet above ground enclosing the cap structure was erected on the back of the dam. Existing dam and new structure were designed and joined together using state-of-the art technology to behave as a single dam structure.

Based on CWC’s recommendation, whilst building the strengthened structure, two drainage galleries were built at a height of 10 feet and 45 feet in new structure.  Based on this, water leakage from dam is being calculated daily.

It has been proved and established scientifically that certain amount of water must leak from the dam if it needs to be safe, strong and healthy. (While kerala claims that there is excessive seepage, its TN claims that seepage allowed for Mp dam is 250 litres per minute while actual seepage is only 45 litres per minute.)

All dams have some seepage as the impounded water seeks paths of least resistance through the dam and its foundation. Seepage must, however, be controlled in both velocity and quantity. Thus its monitoring seepage is necessary tool to know safety of dam. Drainage channels are provided for controlling this. The following gives better idea.


When water level rises above 152 feet, to safeguard dam excess water is evacuated by a structure with 10 sluices, each measuring 36×16 ft was already there. Using this 86,000 cu. ft of water/second can be evacuated

Moreover, based on the advice of CWC, an extra evacuation capacity of 36,000 cu ft/second was added by constructing 3 sluices measuring 40×16 ft. So the current evacuation capacity of the dam is 1,22,000 cu ft/second

This dam also has an associated baby dam.  Water enters near Baby dam only when the water level near main dam exceeds 112 ft. This also means when the water level of the main dam is 152 ft, baby dam has only 40 ft of water pressure. But still, it was decided to strengthen the backside of baby dam using RCC backing and works were started. This was not completed due to lack of cooperation and SC has in 2006 ordered its completion and cooperation to be extended.

Periyar dam has also been strengthened by buttressing as per CWC.

TN side argument is thus old dams can be strengthened and even capacity extended.  TN side brings out these facts along with SC judgement to make its point.

5.Maintenance work has not been going on for last 15 years.

Reply : Basic maintenance work has been on and its remaining maintenance work on baby dam that has been stalled due to non cooperation since 96. The SC judgement on this and foisting of false case using kerala forest department is pointed out.  Further it is pointed out that in year 2000, following an elephant’s death due to electrocution iafter tangling with a power cable, power supply was cut to dam, quarters and TN pwd ran the show with diesel generators.  It was post 2006 judgement, TN requested a cable connection as alternative and made payments towards the same. It is also pointed out that life of TN engineers is very difficult out there and were harassesd,sneered and jeered at and no cooperation was extended, forcing them to shift their families.

It is also pointed out that there are still hurdles and SC had to be approached in apr 2011 to seek permission to do maintenance without hurdles.

6.Recently water resources chief engineer of kerala reported that  that the seepage through the ‘          Baby dam’ next to the main Mullaperiyar dam was ”serious.” 

Reply : The maintenance work on baby dam and earth bund was never allowed to be completed and hence this is ironical statement.  Even though this strengthening work is only minor in nature, baby dam receives flow only when dam exceeds 112 ft. Hence baby dam flow is only 24 ft when dam is at 136 ft

Baby dam and earthen bund have been cleared for safety even when level of MP dam is at 142 ft and strengthening is required only for rising the level above 142ft. Hence at 136 feet its safe. Last time MP dam reached 136 feet was in 2000 and has reached 136 feet only this year.

7.A new dam  be built and kerala will give TN water.

Reply : TN is not agreeable to this. This means the ownership and operation of dam is out of TN control . TN is not ready to let go of ownership given that previous commitment on increasing the level once strengthening is complete wasn’t honored or the SC judgement was respected. This along with water sharing  rulings not being respected across India, means TN not ready for this.

TN also objects that new dam proposed 350 m downstream is at a level 50ft below the base of MP dam and that the tunnel canals to draw water towards TN are at 104 ft level of existing MP dam. Tn says for this the proposed dam must be minimum 154ft and that only 194 ft gives it a good head.

TN has initially pointed, that it is willing to consider  a new dam if it gets ownership and control and that TN was prepared to part with power from dam.

8 .  Its keralas resource and hence no new agreement can agree for ownership of new dam.

 Reply argument once again goes to validity of agreement and SRC issue.  The argument once again goes on that since its kerala which is claiming its not safe when sc appointed independent committee has cleared it, hence if TN agrees to new dam, it should get same lease contract on rights and ownership and TN will fund it.

As per ministry of water resources Representative of Kerala stated in the meeting that the Govt. of Kerala also recognizes the established uses of water from the dam by Tamil Nadu as per the existing agreement between the two States and will continue the same after the construction of a new dam.

TN had agreed to consider it when it was formally sent to them and Mowr had requested gok to do the same.  The Gotn developed cold feet and kerala too in its comments to minutes said that above was unacceptable and that its had only mentioned in the meeting  that Kerala is willing to give water to Tamil Nadu.

9. Dam is not safe as per reports of IIT roorkee to seismic effect.

Reply : Seismic effects have been considered in design changes as is evident from CWC report and that IIT roorkee report is not acceptable as they are funded by kerala post Sc order with a view to tarnish CWC report and create panic in people. If EC feels so can be further strengthened for revised calculations as in many other dams using techniques like rockfill butressing.

118 year old jaswanth sagar dam collapsed and developed cracks in 2007 and caused floods. It had developed  leaks in the central foundation and developed two 40ft breaches. Same IIT roorkee  guides the engineers in reconstruction  in this case.

10 .  Dam collapse will cause 35 lakh people to die.

Reply notes kerala’s submission in SC regarding free capacity of Idukki dam even under copious rainfall, the maximum levels being reached at MP dam only thrice in its history, that even 136 ft is not being reached easily nowadays.  The reply notes that MP dam current capacity at 136 ft is just 10.5 tmc contrary to  15.5 tmc full capacity.  Hence idukki,kulamavu and cheruthoni dams are capable of storing the waters comfortably. The waters of dam following its break will take a minimum of 4hrs to reach Idukki dam, which is around 50 km away, would have only a pressure or force of 3 feet per second. Hence there is no danger to the three dams. As additional measure if needed water can be discharged from Idukki dam as a safety measure. 4,00,000 cubic feet per second is the discharge capacity of Idukki dam.

With regards to flow between MP and Idukki dam reply notes the settlements are 2,743 ft above sea level while the flood flow will be at 2,450 ft above sea level. Hence very few families will be affected and not as made out.

Allegations from both sides on intentions – follow


While kerala alleges that tamilnadu intention is concerns about reduced hydro power due to reduced water level,political vote, tamil nadu side allegations are that the real intention is to get the dam out of TN control as the storage level at idukki has not been upto expectation affecting power production capacity and that reduction in the Mullaperiyar water level is to increase the water availability at the Idukki  of Kerala located downstream of MP dam. It is argued that if the water level of the Mullaiperiyar dam is increased from 136 ft to 152 ft, Tamil Nadu can divert an additional 5-8  tmc ft of water from the reservoir and consequently the storage at Idukki reservoir will be reduced.

They also point out to recent statements of former CWC chairman Thomas backing the safety of the dam

TN side further alleges that kerala’s politicians real opposition to increasing storage level is the fear of submergence of numerous resorts that have come up in these 30 years.


Tamil nadu arguments have also been that leaders statements of multiple earthquakes to tune of 24 in last 3-4 months are exaggerated and has helped in whipping panic. The argument has been that only 2 in july and 2 in november have been reported by IMD.  The only other tremor reported from south was from ariyalur,TN and not even nicobar islands have seen these many tremors or aftershocks in last few months. Tamilnadu further says that these were not felt at dam site and no cracks have developed


The argument from tamilnadu has been that IIT roorkee report was rejected by empowered committee in july and kerala had filed an appeal against it on Nov22 which is going to be heard on Dec 5. The current round of whipping of passions had been strategically timed to bring public opinion pressure and force hands when things weren’t going well in judicial arena.


The further argument has been that govt officials and ministers of kerala have been systematically participating and promoting documentaries predicting dooms day. This started in 2006 when a documentary based on dooms day scenario book of 35 lakh being killed had  revenue minister being part of it.  Then another such documentary was inaugurated by cm and water resources minister. This was followed by another documentary and a film called Dam99 finally.


The arguments further go that stragically graphics of dam break, cities and towns washed away have been propagated through internet medium and with active connivance of print and electronic media. This created a mass fear in the minds of people. The dooms day scenario went to extent of giant tsunami waves to 25-30 feets high, malls and multi storeyed buildings collapsing as far as Kochi, and what more central kerala submerging in Arabian sea and Tamil nadu having new coast on its western boundary and the might western ghats on its western border submerging.


The counter to above has been that this is to create awareness on the issue and brings no pressure on any one and this must not be considered out of contex


Conspiracy theories have also been floated connecting it to  issues between centre and Tn over kudankulam, Sabarimala and religious conflict, and the delicate balance in kerala assembly and upcoming  Piravom bypoll.  Both sides have alleged their leaders as being sold out to the other

Suggestions for conflict resolution:

It’s clear from allegations and counters that the whole issue is about safety and power for kerala, and ownership and assured guarantee of water for TN and power.

The result of such a big campaign is no matter what the supreme court or empowered committee order is, the impression left in minds of kerala people is unsafe and hence politicos will find it hard, and we may find repetition of what happened before.  Hence safety is the priority of Kerala and for TN ownership.

The centre must be concerned with national integrity of country as many reports have come of vested foreign interests in whipping regional sentiments and breaking the nation.

Option 1

A new dam with a minimum storage height of 204ft, 20 TMC may be proposed, that gives same old and agreed contractual terms to TN with regard to ownership and operation.  Monetary compensation can be reworked and TN can let go of hydel power produced.

This though will have to clear hurdle of environment issues in a sensitive location like Tiger reserve, one reserve which has reversed the trend of falling tigers.

Option 2

TN be allowed to increase capacity to withdraw water from dam by increasing tunnels or widening them.  This could help to decrease the storage level. TN can store this in its plains.

The resultant equivalent power whatever produced in lower camp in TN must be rerouted to kerala. The reason being this would affect storage in idukki. This is because increased water withdrawal capacity may become an issue, as when power plant was shut down, Tn had diverted waters via a byepass route and there were questions and allegations that TN was illegally drawing water. So increased drawing of water may be an issue and be compensated by power surrendered to kerala.

If needed options through use of modern technology can be explored to dig tunnels much below 104 ft to reduce dead storage in  MP dam. Ths both new channels and old one will allow for increased withdrawal capacity and withdrawing as it flows in. This would allow dam level to be low most of the time. slightly upstream diversion channels also can be thought of if kerala is ok for it.

edit: ( saw many make similar suggestions but have forgotten other issues. dam height cannot be fixed officially at 100 feet as some ingeniously suggest. The MP dam unlike other dams is diversion dam. Its a natural pit surronded by rock. The wall blocks it and water is not let downstream but opened on other side. When water rises above 136 feet flood control spillways come in actions and allow downstream flow. (Many cite this as reason why Kerala wants level to be 136 feet nd this tamasha is to ensure it reamains at 136 feets and not goes up, to allow downstream flow). This also tells that maintaining 120 feet without increasing capacity to withdraw not easy during times of rains.

0-104 feet has only 5 TMC of storage. from 104 to 136 feet its another 5 tmc of storage and from 136 to 152 another 5 tmc of storage. So when u say keep level at 100 feet and try new tunnels at 50 feet, ur only allowing a storage of arnd 2.5 to 3 tmc. Dead storage reduction and increasing capacity to withdraw helps in rainy season. During non season water is withdrawn and storage drops to arnd 2.5 tmc at 50 feet. so another 2.5 tmc of water inflow needed to get to 100 ft. the increased withdrawal allows for greater time to fill this up. Then when others also kick in at 104 feet it helps to ensure that it takes lot of time to even reach 120 feet and as and when withdrawal helps keep storage less. Hence officially limit cant be set at 100 ft)

Option 2a

To guarantee further safety Kerala could still construct new dam and put it in a joint operation or central operation, so that even if still extreme scenario of dam breaking this new dam will hold  it.

Interim safety measures

As an  interim or short term measures, kerala could construct a series of check dams and barrages enroute from MP dam to idukki dam to control the flow in case of break.

Decomissioning of dam to involves lot of studies, regarding the impact of silt deposited over years, on environmental impact on flora and fauna, the flow time and so on. The dam cannot be decommissioned immediately.


All these could be jointly funded by central govt, tn,kerala as this is a national integration issue wit centre taking a major share.  If centre could consider special package of funds towards telengana, north east, JK on national security aspect, this too has possibility of snowballing. Centre had in past refused to even own up expenses of empowered comm. and SC came down upon it heavily for this attitude.

This remains the only possible mutually acceptable solution to this impasse.  Else this may drag on legally.

One may hope SC and empowered committee settles it once for all next year, but given the campaign built up, it’s tough to imagine it will die down or convince people. The SC must ensure that no longer mockeries of its judgments happen.  The Sutlej canal case where in Punjab assembly tried to overcome the SC judgment, which ordered the centre to take over the canal is another such example.  This practice must be ended.

Both sides must hopefully accept whatever the empowered committee says.

Having said this, dams must be constantly monitored actively. Further strengthening process if needed must be carried out.

Instrumentation like use of strain gauges and accelerometers must be implemented. CWC had mentioned that it will suggest suitable instrumentation for main dam, baby dam and earth bund once strengthening of baby dam and earth bund was completed, but the legal process and keralas non cooperation has meant it was never carried out.

CWC must also carry out determination of wave parameters following a dam break(this is mandatory in many countries) if it hasnt and alsong with national disaster management authority prepare plans. The dam break nalysis must be carried out only by experts of CWC and not any other organisation as it might end up in red flag.

Hence it is crucial that as this debate and legal process continue, pending strengthening works be carried out immediately irrespective of verdict.

With IB reporting the potential possibility of terrorists targeting this dam to tear the fabric of our nation and this being in route to Sabarimala and close to it, witnessing huge influx of people making security situation difficult, it is important centre send its central forces in addition for security and sets up cctv cameras and monitoring.

Media must share a major share of the blame for this current scenario. It indulged in sensationalism and played to the gallery.

Kerala  SHRC chairman made the same observation. He went on to say that it was the media in Kerala and Tamil Nadu which allowed the issue to snowball.

The leaders on both sides to must refrain from flaring up panic and mutual hate for petty political gains. Such person must be dealt with severely as per law.

Part 1 Part 2  Part 3


Retd Engineers of PWD of TN.

PART 1 :

PART 2 :

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1 Comment

  1. yoganathan

     /  December 7, 2011

    the real issue which is unspoken is the power generated from mullaiperiyar water inside tamilnadu and the enroached land of the reservoir areaby kerala politicos after it’s height was reduced to 136 feet. if u go into the ownership details of the enroached land we will get a clear picture


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