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Why Are Kerala & TN Tussling Over Mullaperiyar Dam? Here Are 10 Things You Should Know

Much in news due to the #KeralaFloods, the debate around this 123-year-old dam has even made the Supreme Court intervene. Find out why!

Earlier this week, both the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments were at loggerheads over rising water levels at the 123-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam in Idukki district. According to Kerala Chief Minister Pinari Vijayan, the water level reached 142 feet on August 15 after hours of heavy rain in and around the catchment areas. He urged the Tamil Nadu government to bring it down to 139 feet.

“To prevent the situation of a sudden release of water in large volumes, which will result in widespread damage, water levels must be lowered immediately,” Vijayan’s office said, according to NDTV.

With Kerala suffering from its worst floods in recent memory, officials are also anxious about this old structure falling apart, which would seriously endanger the lives of nearly three million people.

“With the water level rising, the sluice gates of the dam were opened, but the inflow into the dam was higher than the outflow, and that was a cause of concern,” Vijayan said.

For representational purposes only. (Source: Facebook/Jomon Prakash Tharappei)
For representational purposes only. (Source: Facebook/Jomon Prakash Tharappei)

The matter was taken up by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh earlier today, resulting in a partial diffusion of tensions between the two states.


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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Why are both sides in a constant tussle over the masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River?

Here are 10 things you should know.

1) Constructed over an eight-year period (1887-1895) in the then princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala), it was given on a 999-year lease to the neighbouring Madras Presidency under the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement of October 29, 1886.

2) The dam was built with the intention of diverting the West-flowing Periyar river eastwards to the arid rain shadow region of Madurai. The dam stands at the height of 53.66 metres and 365.85 metres in length.

3) The agreement granted the neighbouring province full rights to construct irrigation projects on the land. This agreement was renewed in the 1970s by both Tamil Nadu and Kerala giving the former rights to the land and water from the dam, besides the authority to develop hydropower projects at the site. In return, Kerala would receive rent from Tamil Nadu.

4) The first cracks in this agreement surfaced in 1979 when the local press claimed that a minor earthquake had resulted in cracks in the damn.

The Central Water Commission, under the Government of India, conducted a study and recommended lowering the water stored in the dam’s reservoir to 136 feet from 142 feet.

If definitive measures were implemented, only then could the Tamil Nadu administration raise water levels to the dam’s full capacity of 152 feet.

5) Tamil Nadu claims that although it has undertaken measures to strengthen the dam, the Kerala government has blocked any attempt to raise the reservoir water level – resulting in losses for Madurai farmers.

Kerala, however, highlights fears of devastation by residents living downstream in the earthquake-prone district of Idukki. Scientists have argued that if there is an earthquake in the region measuring above six on the Richter scale, the lives of over three million people will come under grave danger.

Mullaperiyar Dam (Source: Facebook/Iudkki Gold)
Mullaperiyar Dam (Source: Facebook/Idukki Gold)

6) In 2006, the Supreme court gave Tamil Nadu legal sanction to raise the water level to 142 feet. In response, Kerala amended the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, restricting the water level to 136 feet.

7) Tamil Nadu sought the court’s intervention to strike the amendment down as unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in 2009, Kerala proposed the construction of a new dam at the site, after commissioning an IIT Roorkee study highlighting the fragility of the dam. Tamil Nadu rejected that offer.

Also Read: Flood-Hit Kerala Needs Your Help: Here’s How You Can Do Your Bit For The Affected!

8) In 2011, Idukki district suffered from a series of low-intensity earthquakes, generating further reports of cracks appearing on the dam’s surface. Angered by this development, many in Kerala went out onto the streets in protest, seeking the decommissioning of this dam. In many parts, the demonstrations turned violent.

9) In 2012, however, an Apex court-appointed committee stated that the dam was “structurally and hydrologically safe” and that the Tamil Nadu government could raise water levels up to 142 feet. Two years later, the court event struck down the amendment to the 2003 Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, calling it unconstitutional.

10) Earlier this year, the apex court directed the Central, Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments to set up three separate panels to exclusively prepare for disaster management, reports The New Indian Express.


GiveIndia and The Better India have come together to help Rebuild Kerala by supporting 41,000 affected families. You too can be a part of this movement and help us raise funds for the NGOs working to rehabilitate these families. If all of us come together with a small monthly contribution, we can make a real and meaningful difference in helping restore normalcy to those who need our help the most.

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(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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