November 15, 2021
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Dam(n) war

To: either/view subscribers

Good morning. As global warming and climate change pose an imminent threat to humanity, one African city is adopting a new approach to help make people care about this issue. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone has appointed a chief heat officer. It’s the first such role in the continent. Eugenia Kargbo, a 34-year-old mother of two and former Mayor, is responsible for executing the city’s environmental goals.


Let’s talk about Mullaperiyar

Mullaperiyar Dam (Picture Credit: Jayeshj at Malayalam Wikipedia)

A popular trope in dystopian literature is to talk about a world without water, but what happens if there’s too much of it? Don’t worry, we’re not going to make you watch 2012 again. That absurd sci-fi rendition of Noah’s ark can remain in the shadows, no problem. Instead, let’s talk about the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala.

The 126-year-old structure has been a major point of contention between Tamil Nadu and Kerala for about five decades now. While historically and socially, yes, the dam definitely has served more than its fair time, it is still a very real existential threat to thousands living in the very state it hails from. It’s complicated and uncomfortable but it’s a conversation worth having. So, here’s the story so far.


In the late 1800s, the Mullaperiyar dam was built in the princely state of Travancore. In 1886, it was given to the British-ruled Madras presidency in a 999-year lease. While the dam was mainly built to “feed the arid areas of Tamil Nadu”, the lease gave Tamil Nadu’s secretary of state complete power to set up irrigation projects on the land. A lot has changed since then. We’re no longer under British rule and Travancore is now Kerala. But Tamil Nadu still has rights to the land and water from the dam.

In the 1970s, this British-era agreement was renewed by the two states. But this time, it was agreed that Tamil Nadu had to pay a certain amount as rent to Kerala. Tamil Nadu was even given the authority to develop hydropower projects at the dam site. Things seemed alright till a minor earthquake in 1979 caused a couple cracks in the Mullaperiyar dam. And ever since then, the water level of the reservoir has been a serious subject of contention between the two states.

As of now, the Supreme Court has allowed the dam to hold water till its 142 ft mark. While Tamil Nadu heartily agrees with this statement, Kerala wants the water level to come down to 136 ft. The logic being that if the dam is always at capacity, a little bit of rain could lead to major floods downstream by Idukki, a district in Kerala. But on the other hand, if the water level isn’t high enough, five districts of Tamil Nadu lose a legitimate lifeline.

Kerala’s side: devastating floods and a janky dam

In 2018, Kerala was ravaged by some horrendous floods. While there are several factors that lead to the flood, a major contributor was the sudden discharge of water from the Mullaperiyar dam. The water level in the dam had crossed the 142 ft mark which caused its “spillway shutters” to lift. This caused the excess water to flow downstream to the Idukki reservoir which was also at full capacity. This sudden influx of water forced Kerala to “increase the discharge” which resulted in various parts of central Kerala flooding.

In 2021, the situation isn’t too different either. Just last month, the Idukki reservoir’s live storage capacity was at 94% even after its shutters were open for two whole weeks. The erratic nature of the rainfall this region experiences also doesn’t help. If the Mullaperiyar retains its high capacity mark, the people of Kerala will definitely have to face a lot more floods in the near future. As a result, Kerala has been demanding a new dam to replace the Mullaperiyar. Something that would be impossible without Tamil Nadu on board. If it isn’t a new dam, agreeing to a lower water level is the only other option left.

Another reason for a new dam, the design of which is already in its final stages, being absolutely necessary is that the existing dam is located in an earthquake-prone area. A number of low-intensity earthquakes have already taken place with a couple in 2011 causing quite a stir. Scientists have also mentioned that an earthquake over a 6 on the Richter scale will lead to millions of lives being imperilled. The UN University-Institute for Water, Environment and Health also cited the “significant structural flaws” of the dam may lead to there being a “risk of failure”.

Tamil Nadu’s side: “hydrologically, structurally and seismically safe”

This Saturday, the Tamil Nadu government expressed confidence about the Mullaperiyar dam being “hydrologically, structurally and seismically safe” in the Supreme Court. Claiming that the calls for decommissioning it and questions about its safety are nothing more than a vicious “social media campaign” run from Kerala. Tamil Nadu also claimed that they have “undertaken periodic repairs on the dam” and no such “issue of safety” was noticed. Making all of Kerala’s claims more politically motivated than a matter of fact.

As of now, the Mullaperiyar acts as an important water source for the Theni, Madurai, Dindigul, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamil Nadu. It not only provides drinking water for them but also water for irrigation and power generation in the Lower Periyar Power Station. The water in this dam, from the Periyar river, also originates from Tamil Nadu. All of this immediately makes it incredibly important for the state and its people. In fact, they even claim that they have “suffered huge losses from not being able to use the dam to its full capacity.”

The point that Tamil Nadu keeps bringing up is that they are “as anxious as anybody else” on the health of the dam and keep a “close watch on [its] health”. The Mullaperiyar dam serves them too. When it comes to the safety issues surrounding the water levels at least, both the Central Water Commission and the Supervisory Commission on the Mullaperiyar Dam have agreed to a 142 ft one. The state also claims that the dam’s “safety aspects are being constantly monitored by the supervisory committee set up seven years ago,” as per the 2014 judgements of our apex court. Thus, decommissioning it doesn’t even make sense.


For the Right:

How historian Vikram Sampath uses decolonisation rhetoric to make Hindu domination sound reasonable

For the Left:

The False Equivalence Industry – In which it’s cool to compare RSS to the Taliban


No public display of non-veg food (Gujarat) – Shopkeepers and hawkers can no longer display non-vegetarian food. A ruling by the municipal corporations of Vadodara and Rajkot has indicated as such. The reason given is that food like eggs and meat could hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. The Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) will remove all food stalls that fail to comply with the ruling. The opposition hit back, saying no party can decide what people eat and where.

Raking in liquor revenue (Haryana) – The state saw a growth of more than ₹100 crores in excise revenue from liquor sales this financial year. The reason for the increase is said to be a rise in liquor prices. It came into effect as part of the new excise policy in May. This also saw a rise in wholesale liquor license fees, permit fees, and excise duties. Going forward, it’s projected to increase by ₹400 crores at the end of the excise year in June 2022. 

Dues to discoms (Andhra Pradesh) – The state government and local bodies in the state owe ₹25,257 crores to power distribution companies. The amount consists of tariff subsidies and electricity consumption charges. The information came to light in a letter sent by the Andhra Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (APERC) to the state government and three power distribution companies. While the letter doesn’t specify the period, the APERC said it puts discoms’ survival at risk and could affect consumers. 

Tribal show draws criticism (Chhattisgarh) – The Special Backward Tribes section of the Department of Tribal and Scheduled Castes Development wanted to showcase the Baiga tribe as part of an exhibition at the Science College in Raipur. It was part of the celebrations of the state’s foundation day. The government made the tribespeople sit on display as visitors clicked selfies. The move has come under criticism for treating them as props. People said it minimises the struggle and traditions of the tribespeople. 

Tackling the climate crisis (Arunachal Pradesh) – The state cabinet approved 75 strategies to tackle various aspects of climate change. Coined the ‘Pakke Declaration’, it aims to promote “climate-resilient development” in the state. It’s the first-of-its-kind for any state in India. Part of this includes a multi-sectoral approach to lower emissions, sustainable living, among others. To better reflect the state’s efforts, The Department of Environment and Forest was renamed the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.


33,23,322 – Number of malnourished children in India, as of October 14, 2021. This data was released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in response to an RTI query. Out of the total, 17,76,902 were severely acute malnourished children, while 15,46,420 were moderately acute malnourished children.