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Mullaperiyar row: 'A dam CANNOT last for 999 years'

Last updated on: December 26, 2011 14:24 IST

'We want to protect people living in the dam area'



Thiruvanchur Radhakrishnan, revenue minister in the United Democratic Front cabinet in Kerala, has been in the midst of the Mullaperiyar dam row. Radhakrishnan was serving as the irrigation minister when he met and negotiated with O Paneerselvam, the representative of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

He, along with Water Resources Minister P J Joseph and others went with Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to Delhi to apprise Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the ground situation.

In an interview with's Shobha Warrier, minutes after holding an emergency meeting in Thiruvavananthapuram, Radhakrishnan talks about the escalating feud between the two states

You just came out of an emergency cabinet meeting. What did the cabinet decide on the Mullaperiyar dam issue?

We have two points to make to Tamil Nadu. (We will give) the assurance that Tamil Nadu will get the same amount of water. But we want to protect the people living in the dam area from an impeding danger because the dam is an old one. Our main concern is about providing protection to the people.

We understand that Tamil Nadu is concerned about water. We want to tell them again that there will not be any reduction in the amount of water they are getting even after a new dam is built.

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Image: The Mullaperiyar dam and (inset) Thiruvanchur Radhakrishnan


'How can you expect a dam to exist for 999 years?'

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But Tamil Nadu fears that there will be a stoppage of water supply and that would affect many farmers...

They need not have any such fears. Remember, there is no water dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We are ready to give whatever amount of water they are getting currently.

But they don't seem to believe the Kerala government.

I don't know why, I really do not know.

Is a new dam the only solution?

Yes. How can you expect a dam to exist for 999 years? The only solution to this grave problem is building a new dam. A new dam should be constructed immediately. Everybody knows this dam will not last for a thousand years. So, a new dam is the only solution whenever it is possible, either today or tomorrow.

When I interviewed Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, he said even though the Kerala government is in deficit, it will build a new dam. Have you discussed how you will fund the construction of a new dam?

Yes, we have already discussed this issue. First, we will earmark a suitable place to construct the new dam, which is 1,300 feet below the existing dam. So, land is not a problem.

We are ready to incur whatever expenditure is necessary to build a new dam. Saving the lives of millions of people is more important to us.

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Image: Kerala Chief minister Oomen Chandy (Right) Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa

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'Malayalis and Tamilians are similar'

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Passions are running high on both sides. It was reported that innocent people are being attacked both in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. How do you react to this?

We wholeheartedly condemn the attacks. We will not encourage any kind of attack on anyone.

We consider Tamilians as our brothers and there is a huge Malayali population in Tamil Nadu also. The Malabar area was once a part of the Madras Presidency. In spirit, we are one.

Culturally also, both Malayalis and Tamilians are similar. Why should we fight now? We are not at all for any rivalry with the Tamil people or Tamil Nadu.

Political leaders on both sides are making inflammatory speeches and that leads to violence.

We are pained by this. This should not have happened at all. Some Tamil leaders are also making such unwanted speeches.

In Kerala, some extremist elements are creating an unhealthy environment. We do not want such a situation to develop on both sides. We are for an amicable settlement.

Last time, when there was a problem on the same issue, you were one of the leaders who met the Tamil Nadu chief minister. Is there any possibility of such a meeting this time?

If Tamil Nadu is willing to have a direct dialogue, we are ready. Last time, the chief minister, (Industries Minister P K) Kunjalikutty and me went to Chennai and met the Tamil Nadu CM. We got a very cordial reception at that time and we expected a positive outcome. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Political changes took place on both sides later.

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'People living in that area are scared'

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The Supreme Court verdict was against Kerala then.

Yes, the verdict was in favour of Tamil Nadu. Even now, we are not talking about water. We are only talking about the safety of the dam and the people living there.

The difference this time is that 26 tremors have shaken the area and that makes the situation serious. The area is in a seismic-3 zone. Naturally, people living in that area are scared and anxious.

Like the last time, will there be any direct dialogue with Tamil Nadu over the issue?

We are ready if Tamil Nadu is willing to talk to us.

Do you think the stand taken by both state governments has made the issue so grave?

What does Tamil Nadu want from the Mullaperiyar dam? (It wants) water for irrigation. When we are ready to give them water, what is the problem? So, that makes the issue different this time. It is not a dispute over water.

What do we want? We want a new dam because this one is more than 100 years old and is in a dangerous condition. The tremors occurring in the area make the situation even graver. We fear that something may happen to the dam.

That is what Tamil Nadu is disputing. They say the dam is safe.

In the petition filed by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, she admitted that four tremors have taken place in that area. Whether it is 4 or 26 or 1, it is not the number that matters. Even a single tremor can cause damage to the dam. We are saying that tremors can occur in the area.

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Image: The Mullaperiyar reservoir

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'There is no reason for this difference of opinion'

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In which direction do you see the issue shifting to? Are you optimistic about the outcome?

We expect the central government to negotiate in the matter.

Are you satisfied with the stand taken by the central government, which is headed by your own party?

We know that the central government has its own limitations. In a federal set-up, the central government can only take the position of a mediator.

We are hopeful that good sense will prevail on all and there will be a solution soon. We hope that the Tamil Nadu chief minister will understand the anxiety of the people of Kerala residing in that area.

I don't know why they don't understand us. I wish they had understood the stand taken by the Kerala government. There is no reason for this difference of opinion. We are hopeful that a seasoned politician like Jayalalithaa will understand our point of view.

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Image: Mullaperiyar dam

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