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“Over an Ageing Dam”

The people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, two South Indian States, are divided over the issue of a dam named Mullaperiyar. Mullaperiyar is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River, located 881 m above the sea level in Thekkady, Idukki district of Kerala. It was constructed by the British Government (1887-1895) to divert water to Tamil Nadu; is 53.6 m high and 365.7 m long. The dam and the river are located in and owned by Kerala, but controlled and operated by Tamil Nadu, under a lease agreement for 999 years. The control and safety of the dam and the validity of the lease agreement have been controversial. The controversies heated up following the Morvi dam disaster in 1979 which killed over 25,000 people. In the recent years the concern over the safety of the dam has been intensified by earthquakes in the dam area. Kerala demands the construction of a new dam, pointing out that the dam is seriously damaged and will not withstand an earthquake measuring even 5 on the Richter scale, and that a dam failure will wipe away 3 districts in Kerala completely, and 2 other districts partially, killing millions of people. Tamil Nadu argues that the dam is strong, no new dam is needed, and that Kerala is trying only to have control over water by proposing a new dam.

In the last few months the conflicts between people of the two states have gone out of control. Tamilians were attacked in Kerala. Keralites in Tamil Nadu have been attacked; their property was looted. The tension still continues. The main reason for the present development is the political game – political parties in both states try to exploit the situation by instigating people, to show that they stand for the best interest of the people. In the political game, the real issues of the security and safety of the people, the needs of both the states, etc, are pushed into the background.

I am originally from Kerala; I do not want to give any opinion on the issue. I would rather give two observations.

Politicization/over-politicization of any issue is becoming the trademark of democracy (at least in countries like India!). Often the media too are utilized by the interested parties. Any issue is made sensational by the politicians, and often it is impossible to understand where the truth is. Mullaperiyar dam issue is just one; hundreds of such issues can be pointed out from India alone. The success of democracy depends on the ability of the people – not only a few, but of all – to critically discern and decide. Otherwise people become puppets in the hands of unscrupulous and selfish politicians. What do we do to enhance critical awareness in the people in a democratic system?

Christians in India are a minority. But, in Kerala the Church is very strong; Christian presence in Tamil Nadu also is significant. But, so far the Church in Tamil Nadu and Kerala haven’t taken any decisive steps to solve this issue in an amicable manner. This is yet another example where the Church dissociates itself from or keeps silence on issues of vital importance for national and social life. Unless the policies and laws interfere with the administration and the properties of the Church, often the Church is a passive spectator. In the Mullaperiyar dam issue, the spokesperson of the Church in Kerala said that the Church would try to propose a solution in collaboration with the Church in Tamil Nadu, but no decisive steps have been taken so far. Shouldn’t the Church get more actively involved in issues of national and social importance?

Shaji George Kochuthara
Dharmram Vidya Kshetram
Bangalore, India