The National Alliance of People’s Movements has offered its services to mediate between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the Mullaperiyar controversy with the help of the Central government.
In a statement, issued in New Delhi today, it suggested that the controversy should be used as an opportunity to revisit dam building. It also demanded that the Centre bring out a White Paper on all dams and set up a National Commission on Dam.
The following is the text of the statement:
The rising tension, passion and stray incidents of violence in Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar dam on Periyar river in Kerala has once again brought the focus on the water conflicts in the country, control over natural resources of the communities and on the safety of the dam. Unfortunately, the debate is still not about dams as source of irrigation, power generation and flood control and is projecting dams as a solution. The debate, limited to the water sharing between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, fails to address the larger issue of effective management of water resources and communities’ control over water and natural resources.
India is witness to a large number of anti-dam agitations by people's movements ranging from Bhakra, Koel Karo, Tehri to Dams in Narmada Valley. The 'No Big Dam' agitation started in the case of Sardar Sarovar Dam is still being waged in the North- East of India and other Himalayan states and opposed by communities for various reasons, environmental to life and livelihood.
A fair number of India’s dams are over 100 years old. A list compiled by the Central Water Commission (CWC) shows at least 114 dams in this category. There are roughly 400 dams which are 50-100 years old. According to the Madhya Pradesh government, the state has 168 dams which can be called “distressed dams”, out of which 63 are less than 50 years old. Since 1917, 29 dams have reportedly been damaged. In 2002, the Jamunia Dam in Madhya Pradesh breached and the toll is continuing till date. Such breaches of dams have affected the lives and property of hundreds of people, and, the number of those killed and injured in such accidents has reached thousands. Mullaperiyar is one such ageing dam and fears of further breach and damage has increased in recent times with the seismic activity in the region.
It is widely believed that the tremors in the region are influenced by the pressure of a large number of dams including Idukki and Mullaperiyar. As such, a new, larger dam in place of the existing one may actually increase the risk of seismic activity in the area. The issue of additional forest requirement of about 50 ha in the Periyar Tiger Reserve should also be considered. So, to imagine and call for construction of a new dam by Kerala government is an ill-founded solution.
The safety of the dam at present may be a point of debate for the conflicting parties. But by any stretch of imagination, we cannot foresee the dam holding good eternally. Hence, sooner or later, alternative arrangements have to be made. Considering the possible risk of continuing with the 116-yea- old structure and by the application of the precautionary principle, it is better to go for alternate arrangements for irrigation in Tamil Nadu areas and ways to exploit the Periyar waters should be explored on both sides as soon as possible.
The water conflict between these two states is not an isolated one. We have other water sharing issues over almost every river in this country. The fact is that rivers don't respect the artificial boundaries created by nation-states and have their own natural flows. Communities living in their vicinity know about their flow and rhythm of life. Dams have only destroyed the rivers and killed their flow. It is time we started thinking of alternative ways of harnessing the river water for livelihood and civilizational survival.
India’s ageing dam population, absence of proper maintenance of the dams and absence of accountability mechanisms is going to increase the frequency of dam disasters in years to come. When the increased frequency of high intensity rainfall, melting glaciers and other such events due to global warming is added to this already heady mix, the consequences could be grave. We have a Dam Safety Bill pending before Parliament but we need this to be put to fresh scrutiny in public domain and consult all the movements and communities groups in the light of the ongoing controversy and develop a dam safety agency which will take care of the ageing dam population and also work towards decommissioning of these dams. Simultaneously, there is a need to put a moratorium on the construction of large dams anywhere in the country.
The frequent failure of large dams to provide the claimed benefits and their poor performance needs to be recognised and accepted. There is no reason for optimism on the feasibility of improving the poor performance of dams and mitigating their impacts. A major question is the feasibility of just rehabilitation with land for land lost by agriculturists and alternative, appropriate sources of livelihood for other displaced people. In large scale displacement, the experience shows a clear failure. Within the value framework we stand and propagate – equity, sustainability, transparency, accountability, participatory decision-making, and efficiency – large dams have not helped attain, but rather hindered, “human development”.
As the World Commission on Dams has concluded there is an urgent need for developing a new framework for decision-making which provides a solid basis for assessing options for energy and water development, and for planning and implementing projects that can achieve the desired benefits without exacting an unacceptable cost for anyone affected, or for our environment and future generations.
It is in this light that we from NAPM demand that---
1. The government of India brings out a white paper on all the dams, divulge the benefits vis-a-vis projections and plans, current status, cost of running, number of people displaced, rehabilitated and so on.
2. The government of India establish a National Commission on Dams to study the existing and planned dams and look at their feasibility, impact and contribution to the overall intended development and put a moratorium on the construction of all the big dams till then.
3. The governments of India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu come together for a dialogue and find a solution which will not compromise their stand and also not affect the fear of losing livelihood either by dam breach in Kerala or lack of water for agriculture in Tamil Nadu.
4. The government of India start the overall process of debate and discussion leading up to enactment of Dam Safety Act in consultation with affected communities and also work towards putting an end to the water conflicts in the country and develop institutional mechanisms for water sharing between different states.
Lastly, NAPM in this regard offers its help in mediating between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with the help of the Central government in case of Mullaperiyar controversy. We do hope with the help of people's movements from both sides we will able to reach a compromise which will serve the livelihood and safety concerns of the people.
Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, Gabriele Dietrich, Prafulla Samantara, Akhil Gogoi, Geo Josh, Hussain master, Gabriele Dietrich, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Ramakrishna Raju, Anand Mazgaonkar, Vimal Bhai, Madhuresh Kumar