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Kerala wants new dam at Mullaperiyar: Pinarayi

While the CM has warned of action againt those spreading panic over the old Mullaperiyar dam collapsing, the apex court has asked the Centre to help find an early solution to avert a massive disaster.

NEW DELHI, Oct 25: With flash floods and consequent landslides claiming nearly 50 lives over the week in Kerala, the disquieting thought of a decrepit, 125-year old Mullaperiyar dam collapsing is once again on the front burner. As the apprehension of five districts in the State alongwith its 35 lakh population perishing in a deluge in case the dam breaks has escalated to global platforms, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is reassuring the people that the State Government is pursuing its demand for the constructin of a new dam. “The Government stand is for constructing a new dam," he told the Assembly on Monday.

At the same time, trying to dispel the fears, the Chief Minister said the dam is presently safe and warned those he said are trying to create a scare among the public.

"Legal action will be taken against those who are spreading false information in the social media with the intention of creating a scare about Mullaperiyar dam. There is no danger to the dam now," Pinarayi told the Assembly.

The Chief Minister said, “The State Government wants a new dam to be constructed. There are certain differences with Tamil Nadu. These will be resolved through discussions." Kerala had demanded construction of a new dam in 2009, and Tamil Nadu had opposed it.

He was responding to a question raised by members over the concerns being expressed widely over public safety vis-a-vis the dam.

An old study report by a UN institute has been brought up in social media posts in order to strengthen the case against the dam. The report says that the Mullaperiyar dam, constructed in 1895, is in an area vulnerable to landslips and quakes. It says a breach will endanger the lives of over 35 lakh people.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, on a plea filed from Kerala, wanted the two Satate Governments to sort out the long raging dispute as early as possible, remarking, "It's a very serious issue. It's a matter of people's lives and property." The apex court also asked the Centre to take note of the matter in view of the frequent flash floods and landslides that cause huge loss of lives and property. The court sought an immediate solution to the problem.

Tamil Nadu, in its response, told the court that there is no significant rise in the water level at the dam.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had in a previous case allowed Tamil Nadu to keep the water level in the dam up to 142 ft, twice a year, although Tamil Nadu had wanted it to be 152 ft and Kerala demanded it be kept at 136 ft.

On Sunday, Pinarayi had written to MK Stalin, his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, urging that Tamil Nadu draw more water from the Mullaperiyar dam via the Vaigai river to ease the pressure on rivers in Kerala as the level in the catchment area was rising. When Tamil Nadu waits until the level reaches the danger mark and suddenly releases water from the dam, several districts in Kerala become inundated.

Kerala had been raising the issues of safety of the old dam as it has shown cracks as also threat of flash floods when excess water is released without warning.

The main concern about Mullaperiyar dam is that the safety of 35 lakh people and property across several districts downstream in Kerala is at stake if it collapses. The average life expectancy of a dam is 50 years and Mullaperiyar is 125 years old. The technology used in the construction of the dam is also old and poor and lacks strength. The surkhi mixture used in the construction led to leaks in 1977. The plan for new dam was made then and survey started but Tamil Nadu had opposed. It is also located on a seismic zone. The earthquakes of 1979 and 2011 had also caused some cracks in the dam.

Mullaperiyar dam is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar river 881 m (2,890 ft) above sea level on the Cardamom Hills in the Western Ghats in Thekkady, Idukki district, central Kerala. Gravity dams use their weight and the force of gravity to support the reservoir. It was made with concrete prepared from limestone and "surkhi" - burnt brick powder - and faced with rubble. Built in 1895, it has an installed capacity of 161 MW, and a height of 53.66 m (176 ft) from the foundation and 365.7 m (1,200 ft) length. The dam is built at the confluence of Mullayar and Periyar rivers and hence the name Mullaperiyar. The dam is located in Kerala but is operated and maintained by Tamil Nadu.

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