Mullaperiyar dam issue: Two shutters of Mullaperiyar dam opened, Idukki district in Kerala on red alert

Mullaperiyar dam issue: The Mullaperiyar dam shutters were opened a day after the Supreme Court asked the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments to abide by the decision taken by the supervisory committee regarding maintaining appropriate water level in the Mullaperiyar dam. 

Mullaperiyar has outlived its life, says UN report
Mullaperiyar has outlived its life, says UN report

Mullaperiyar dam issue: Two shutters of the Mullaperiyar dam were opened on October 29, 2021 following a rise in its water level. Idukki district in Kerala has been put on red alert and people living downstream of the Mullaperiyardam have been evacuated as a precautionary measure. The water is expected to reach the Idukki dam in a few hours. 

The Mullaperiyar dam shutters were opened in the presence of Kerala water resource minister Roshy Augustine and Revenue minister K Rajan, who had gone to inspect the Mullaperiyar dam. The two shutters- 3 & 4- were raised by 35 cms after sounding three sirens. The dam has a total of 13 spillway shutters. 

The Mullaperiyar dam water level was 138.75 feet when the shutters were opened. Around 538 cubic feet of water is being let out through the spillway to bring down the dam's water level to 138 feet. This is the third time that the Mullaperiyar dam's shutters have been opened within a span of seven years. The shutters of the Mullaperiyar dam were last opened in 2018 when the opening of the spillways without giving proper alert had led to unexpected floods in the southern state, causing heavy devastation.

The current water level of the Idukki dam is at 2398.32 feet. The dam is likely to be opened again if the water level continues to rise steadily. 

Read more: Idukki dam shutters opened for first time after 2018

SC asks Kerala, Tamil Nadu governments to abide by water level notified by expert committee

The Mullaperiyar dam shutters were opened a day after the Supreme Court asked the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments to abide by the decision taken by the supervisory committee regarding maintaining appropriate water level in the Mullaperiyar dam. The expert committee has suggested maintaining the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam at 139.5 feet till November 10th. 

The SC bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar stated, for the time being, the parties will abide by the water level notified by the expert committee but the court would be open to the committee to review its decision about water level if the situation warrants it.

The court has posted the matter for hearing on November 11, 2021. Kerala government had earlier submitted a written note saying that the dam is a 126-year-old composite gravity dam, and the hearting of the dam, which accounts for more than 60 percent of its volume, was constructed with lime-surkhi concrete. The note read that "seismic forces were not considered in its design. Inspite of strengthening measures taken twice, presently the dam is in deteriorating condition due to its age."

Kerala CM writes to Tamil Nadu CM to gradually open Mullaperiyar spillway shutters 

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin urging him to take necessary action to gradually open the spillway shutters and release water from the Mullaperiyar dam in the wake of rising water level.

The CM's letter urges to avoid a situation where unrestricted quantities of water will have to be released. The Kerala CM pointed out the recent floods and landslides in Kerala due to the heavy rains and asked the Tamil Nadu government to regulate Mullaperiyar dam water level so that untoward incidents can be avoided as the "rains are expected to intensify in the coming days”.

He also requested arrangements to be made to intimate the Kerala Government about the opening of the shutters at least 24 hours in advance to help them to take precautionary measures for ensuring the safety of the people living downstream of the dam. 

Tamil Nadu had issued the first level warning on October 23. The Kerala state water resources department had also issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government after the Mullaperiyar dam water level crossed 136 feet. A second notice will be given after it reaches 138 feet.

Mulleperiyar dam's maximum allowable water storage capacity is 142 feet. The district administration has said that there is no cause for concern as of now. Further, all necessary steps have been taken to relocate those living near the banks of the Periyar River. 

What is the Mulleperiyar Dam issue?

The Mullaperiyar dam, located in Kerala’s Idukki district, is managed by the Tamil Nadu government.  The dam is over a century old, as it was constructed by the British in 1895 on the Periyar River in Idukki district of Kerala to meet the water requirements of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

It is feared that with the current inflow that the Mulleperiyar dam water level may reach 142 feet once the rain intensifies yet again. Hence, there is an urgent need to release excess water from the reservoir gradually to avoid the sudden release of excess water, which will affect people living in downstream of the Periyar river. 

Kerala government has asked the Tamil Nadu government to draw water from the Mulleperiyar dam through a tunnel to the Vaigai dam and gradually release it downstream. The state had earlier also asked the TN government to maintain the Mulleperiyar Dam water level at 136 feet citing safety concerns. However, a Supreme Court ruling has allowed Tamil Nadu to maintain a maximum water level of 142 feet. 

Calls to decommission Mulleperiyar dam

Following the rise in water level in Mullaperiyar dam, Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin's Facebook was flooded with requests from people living in Kerala to decommission the dam in the view of safety of people and construct a new dam.

Several celebrities including popular actor Prithviraj joined the call to decommission the Mulleperiyar dam. There is a fear that the dam will get damaged or even break when the water level crosses the danger mark, as it was constructed using brick powder and other raw materials.  

Mulleperiyar dam not safe?

According to Kerala, if the Mulleperiyar dam collapses at any point, it will wash away at least a 25 km stretch between Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams, affecting about a 0.1million people. Further, if the collapse causes damage to the Idukki dam, then it would further destroy the human settlements of millions of people.

In a recent submission to the Supreme Court, petitioners have cited a UN report that names Mullaperiyar dam and the threat it poses. 

Mullaperiyar dam has outlived its life: UN study report

A recent report by United Nations University has stated that the Mullaperiyar dam has outlived faces the risk of failure. The report titled “Ageing water storage Infrastructure: An emerging global risk”, has stated that the aging of dams is an emerging global development issue, as they pose great threats to human safety. 

As per the report, the Mullaperiyar dam, which was built in 1895, is situated in a landslide-prone and seismically active area and if at any failure occurs in the dam around 3.5 million people will be affected.

The report highlighted the structural flaws in the dam as it is constructed with concrete surkhi, a combination of burnt brick powder and limestone and noted that one of the primary technical issues has been the safety of the people living in Kerala, downstream of the dam. 

The report noted that the dam was built with old technology and it has outlived its life. The report was released by United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

SC committee to decide on maximum water level to be maintained

Supreme Court ruled on October 25, 2021, that a supervisory committee should take a "firm decision" on the maximum water level to be maintained in the Mulleperiyar dam.

The court has directed all the concerned authorities to interact on an urgent basis on the issue, as people's lives and property will be at risk. 

The Supreme Court comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar said that this is not a political arena where you can debate.

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