The Mullaperiyar Dam is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River in the Indian state of Kerala [1][2][3] It is located 881 m (2,890 ft) above mean sea level, on the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats in Thekkady, Idukki District of Kerala, South India. It was constructed between 1887 and 1895 by the British Government to divert water eastwards to the Madras Presidency area (present-day Tamil Nadu). It has a height of 53.6 metres (176 ft) from the foundation, and a length of 365.7 metres (1,200 ft).[1] The Periyar National Park in Thekkady is located around the dam's reservoir. The dam is located in Kerala on the river Periyar,[1][4] but is controlled and operated under a period lease by neighboring Tamil Nadu state.[1] Although the Periyar river has a total catchment area of 5398 km2 with 114 km2 in Tamil Nadu,[5][6] the catchment area of the Mullaperiyar dam itself lies entirely in Kerala.[7][8][9] The control and safety of the dam and the validity and fairness of the lease agreement have been points of dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu states.[10] Supreme court judgment came in 27 February 2006, allowing Tamil Nadu to raise the level of the dam to 152 ft (46 m) after strengthening it. Responding to it, Mullaperiyar dam was declared an 'endangered' scheduled dam by the Kerala Government under the disputed Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006.[11]


On 29 October 1886, a lease indenture for 999 years was made between the Maharaja of Travancore, Visakham Thirunal Rama Varma and the British Secretary of State for India for Periyar Irrigation Works. The lease agreement was signed by Dewan of Travancore V Ram Iyengar and State Secretary of Madras State J C Hannington. This lease was made after 24 years negotiation between the Maharaja and the British. The lease indenture granted full right, power and liberty to the Secretary of State for India to construct make and carry out on the leased land and to use exclusively when constructed, made and carried out, all such irrigation works and other works ancillary thereto to. The agreement gave 8000 acres of land for the reservoir and another 100 acres to construct the dam. The tax for each acre was [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 5 per year. The lease provided the British the rights over "all the waters" of the Mullaperiyar and its catchment basin, for an annual rent of [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 40,000.[12]

In 1947, after Indian Independence, After British India was partitioned in 1947 into India and Pakistan, Travancore and Cochin joined the Union of India and on 1 July 1949 were merged to form Travancore-Cochin. On 1 January 1950 (Republic Day), Travancore-Cochin was recognised as a state. The Madras Presidency was organised to form Madras State in 1947.

On 1 November 1956, the state of Kerala was formed by the States Reorganisation Act merging the Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin (excluding four southern taluks, which were merged with Tamil Nadu), and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara.[13] The Kerala state government announced that the earlier agreement which had been signed between British Raj and Travancore agreement was invalid and needed to be renewed.citation needed

After several failed attempts to renew the agreement in 1958, 1960, and 1969, the agreement was renewed in 1970 when C Achutha Menon was Kerala Chief Minister. According to the renewed agreement, the tax per acre was increased to [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 30, and for the electricity generated in Lower Camp using Mullaperiyar water, the charge was [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 12 per kiloWatt per hour. Tamil Nadu uses the water and the land, and the Tamil Nadu government has been paying to the Kerala government for the past 50 years [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 2.5 lakhs as tax per year for the whole land and [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 7.5 lakhs per year as surcharge for the total amount of electricity generated.[12][14] The validity of this agreement is under dispute between the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As of 2013 the matter is pending before a Division Bench of the Supreme Court.[15][16][17][18] The dispute puts into question the power of the federal government of India to make valid orders respecting Indian States, in this case regarding a watershed and dam within one state that is used exclusively in another.[19]

Interstate disputeEdit

For Tamil Nadu, the Mullaperiyar dam and the diverted Periyar waters act as a lifeline for Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramnad districts, providing water for irrigation and drinking, and also for generation of power in Lower Periyar Power Station. Tamil Nadu has insisted on exercising its unfettered rights to control the dam and its waters, based on the 1886 lease agreement. Kerala has pointed out the unfairness in the 1886 lease agreement and has challenged its validity. However, safety concerns posed by the 116-year old dam to the safety of the people of Kerala in the event of a dam collapse, have been the focus of disputes from 2009 onwards. Kerala's proposal for decommissioning the dam and constructing a new one has been challenged by Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu has insisted on raising the water level in the dam to 142 feet, pointing out crop failures. One estimate states that "the crop losses to Tamil Nadu, because of the reduction in the height of the dam, between 1980 and 2005 is a whopping [Image:Indian Rupee symbol.svg|baseline|alt=INR|link=|7px]] 40,000 crores. In the process the farmers of the erstwhile rain shadow areas in Tamil Nadu who had started a thrice yearly cropping pattern had to go back to the bi-annual cropping."[20]

The Kerala Government maintains that this is not true. During the year 1979–80 the gross area cultivated in Periyar command area was 171,307 acres (690 km2). After the lowering of the level to 136 ft (41 m), the gross irrigated area increased and in 1994–95 it reached 229,718 acres (930 km2).[21] The Tamil Nadu government had increased its withdrawal from the reservoir, with additional facilities to cater to the increased demand from newly irrigated areas.citation needed

In 2006, the Supreme Court of India by its decision by a three member division bench, allowed for the storage level to be raised to 142 feet (43 m) pending completion of the proposed strengthening measures, provision of other additional vents and implementation of other suggestions.[22]

However, the Government of Kerala promulgated a new "Dam Safety Act" against increasing the storage level of the dam, which has been challenged by Tamil Nadu on various grounds. The Supreme Court issued notice to Kerala to respond, however did not stay the operation of the Act even as an interim measure. The Court then advised the States to settle the matter amicably, and adjourned hearing in order to enable them to do so. The Supreme Court of India termed the act as not unconstitutional.[23] Meanwhile, the Supreme Court constituted a Constitution bench to hear the case considering its wide ramifications.[24]

The Kerala Government states that it does not object to giving water to Tamil Nadu, their main cause of objection being the dam's safety as it is 116 years old. Increasing the level would add more pressure to be handled by already leaking dam.[25] Tamil Nadu wants the 2006 order of Supreme court be implemented so as to increase the water level to 142 feet (43 m).

In 2000 Frontline one author stated thus:

"For every argument raised by Tamil Nadu in support of its claims, there is counter-argument in Kerala that appears equally plausible. Yet, each time the controversy gets embroiled in extraneous issues, two things stand out: One is Kerala's refusal to acknowledge the genuine need of the farmers in the otherwise drought-prone regions of Tamil Nadu for the waters of the Mullaperiyar; the other is Tamil Nadu's refusal to see that it cannot rely on or continue to expect more and more from the resources of another State to satisfy its own requirements to the detriment of the other State. A solution perhaps lies in acknowledging the two truths, but neither government can afford the political repercussions of such a confession".[26]
Tamil Nadu argues that the latter is similar to tax revenues unfairly distributed to underdeveloped states within India, to the detriment of the revenue producing states, i.e., a form of wealth distribution. What we see here is a microcosm of the bigger problem that India faces with China, which is building dams on Brahmaputra.

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 National Register for Large Dams 194–197. Central Water Commission (2009). Retrieved on 30 November 2011.
  2. Frye, Albert Irvin (1918). Civil engineers' pocket book: a reference-book for engineers, contractors, and students, containing rules, data, methods, formulas and tables, 2nd (corrected), D. Van Nostrand Company. Retrieved on 30 November 2011.
  3. T, Ramakrishnan. "A dam steeped in history and controversy", 29 October 2011. Retrieved on 27 November 2011.
  4. Medium River Basins Of The Country. Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India. Retrieved on 10 January 2012.
  5. (2012) Water insecurity, institutions, and livelihood dynamics: a study in Plachimada, Kerala, India. India: Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum, India), 58. Retrieved on 11 August 2012.
  6. (2012) Advances in Fish and Wildlife Ecology and Biology, Volume 4. Retrieved on 11 August 2012.
  7. The Mullaperiyar Conflict 7. National Institute of Advanced Studies (2010). Retrieved on 10 August 2012.
  8. No part of Mullaperiyar catchment is in TN: CWRDM Director (2012). Retrieved on 10 August 2012.
  9. Dam Break Analysis 17–22. IIT Roorkee (2012). Retrieved on 10 August 2012.
  10. Roy Mathew. "State is unprepared for disasters", Kasturi & Sons Ltd, 2 December 2011. Retrieved on 6 November 2011.
  11. The Kerala Irrigation And Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006.
  12. 12.0 12.1 R. Krishnakumar (11–24 March 2006.), Verdict on Mullaperiyar, vol. 23 – Issue 05,, Chennai, India, <> 
  13. Plunkett, Richard; Cannon, T; Davis, P; Greenway, P & Harding, P (1 October 2001). South India. Lonely Planet. Retrieved on 10 January 2012.
  14. Mulla Periyar Dam issue 1. Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India. Retrieved on 30 November 2011.
  15. ' Mullaperiyar: Centre expresses willingness to act as "facilitator", 23 November 2011, < '> 
  16. Mullaperiyar: Ministers to visit Delhi, Chennai, India, 25 November 2011, <> 
  17. "Advise Kerala not to build the dam", the Hindu, November 24, 2011
  18. "‘Enact law declaring dam pact illegal’", 30 November 2011. Retrieved on 6 December 2011.
  19. Suhrith Parthasarathy. "Water Wars in India’s South" (blog "India Ink"), August 12, 2013. Retrieved on August 12, 2013.
  20. The Mullaperiyar imbroglio. Hard News. April 2006
  21. Kerala Government's arguments. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  22. Mullaperiyar water level can be raised. Deccan Herald. 28 February 2006
  23. Mullaperiyar: apex court issues notice to Government . The Hindu. 9 September 2006. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  24. Ministry of Water Resources (2 December 2011). Mulla Periyar Dam issue. Govt. of India. Retrieved on 6 December 2011.
  25. "Mullaperiyar dam row: Clashes at Kerala-Tamil Nadu border post", 6 December 2011. Retrieved on 6 December 2011.
  26. (25 November 2000) "Over to the Supreme Court". Frontline 17 (24). Retrieved on 9 January 2012.

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