An academic study by a UN agency has flagged safety concerns of the Mullaperiyar dam, the Parliament was told on Thursday, incidentally the day Rajya Sabha passed the Dam Safety Bill and the debate ahead of it discussed Mullaperiyar issue amongst others.
“There is a report titled ‘Ageing Water Storage Infrastructure: An Emerging Global Risk’ published in the 11th Series Report of the United Nations University-Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). The said report has mentioned certain safety concerns of the Mullaperiyar dam,” Minister of State for Jal Shakti, Bishweswar Tudu told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.
He however, sought to allay fears about the safety of the dam, stating that through inspections, investigations, tests and studies, the health of a dam can be evaluated. Various instruments, which are installed in the dam, provide relevant information on the safety conditions of a dam. Pre and post-monsoon inspections are generally carried out by the dam owning agencies every year, he said.
The surki-limestone dam was built in the 1880s and time and again, Kerala has expressed concerns about the safety of the dam that can potentially have a destructive impact on five of its districts downstream in case of a dam breach. The dam has been a bone of contention between Kerala – where the dam is located – and Tamil Nadu, which owns the dam as per the old lease agreement.
The January 2021 report of the UN University – Institute for Water, Environment and Health listed Mullaperiyar among the world’s big dams that need to be decommissioned.
The Minister further said: “As per information available with Central Water Commission (CWC), in 1979 some distress condition was reported in the Mullaperiyar dam. Thereafter the CWC suggested certain categories of strengthening measures viz. emergency measures, short term measures and long-term measures. The emergency and short-term measures were completed by the Government of Tamil Nadu.”
Safety issues of the Mullaperiyar dam have been examined and reviewed by various expert groups/committees in the past. The safety issues of this dam were examined under the directions of the Supreme Court (Original Suit No. 3 of 2006 (State of Tamil Nadu versus State of Kerala & Anr)) through an Empowered Committee. The Empowered Committee concluded that the Mullaperiyar dam was safe in all respects, viz., hydrologically, structurally, and seismically and this fact was taken cognizance of in the Supreme Court’s judgement of May 2014.
Commissioning or de-commissioning of dams owned by state governments is exclusively within the purview of the dam owning state, Tudu told the house.