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Meeting on Mullaperiyar Water Conflict

The Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India had organised a meeting on the Mullaperiyar water conflict between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on 4th August 2009 at the Deputy Speaker’s Hall, Constitutional Club, New Delhi.

The meeting was organized in the background of the increasing tension between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on this issue. For various reasons, the 1886 agreement (lease deed) between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile Madras Presidency – perhaps the first formal inter-state, inter-basin water sharing and transfer in India – which led to the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam (113 years old) has come under stress in the recent times. The end result has been the escalating tension between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and as each tries to prove the validity of its case, the possibility of finding an amicable settlement of the issue seems to recede further every year. In the recent years many efforts have been made on various political, legal and administrative fronts to resolve the issue. However, the Forum feels that there is a need to focus the effort more on understanding each other’s standpoints and concerns and exploring common areas of agreement through a process of dialogue (or even better, a trialogue – between the conflicting parties and civil society experts) on various issues that are unfolding around the Mullaperiyar conflict ranging from inter-state agreements, the legal framework, dam safety, environmental justice, irrigated agriculture and so on. The Forum’s effort in organising this 4th August meeting was aimed at filling this central gap.

The main objective of the meeting was to understand the issues involved, the different viewpoints around the conflict and then to explore common ground between the two conflicting parties and see whether agreement can be reached on a few action points and steps that can pave the way to a solution which can address the concerns of both the parties in a win-win or positive sum framework.

Dr. Biksham Gujja, Policy Advisor of the Living Water Programme at WWF International, Gland, Switzerland and also Team Leader of WWF-ICRISAT Project on Water Productivity in Agriculture, chaired the meeting. On behalf of Kerala government Mr. M. Sasidharan, Retd Chief Engineer, Technical expert from Kerala on Mullaperiyar issue made a presentation on the issue. Experts like Prof. Subhash Chander, Formerly with The Department of Civil Engineering, IIT, Delhi and international expert on dam safety; Prof. Brij Gopal, formerly with the Department of Environmental Sciences, JNU, New Delhi; Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer, Ex-Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India and presently with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and Suhas Paranjape, Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India and SOPPECOM, Pune spoke at the meeting bringing out different dimensions of the case. Mr. N K Premachandran, Minister, Water Resources, Kerala, also spoke at the meeting and also promised all help and cooperation to the efforts of the Forum. About 7-8 MPs from Kerala and actively participated in the meeting. One of the lacunae of the meeting was that nobody from Tamil Nadu agreed to speak at the meeting irrespective of making efforts at various levels till the last moment.

The meeting has come up with few suggestions. Some of the important suggestions include:

1) To take up three thematic studies: a) storage and water delivery/conveyance to TN - different options for that; b) environmental issues in both upstream and downstream of the dam, c) the ayacut/irrigated command -- issues of the extent, cropping pattern, water use, water use efficiency, alternatives (less water intensive crops, alternative agronomical practices to reduce water use and so on).
2) To set up an independent committee/commission to look into the issues and suggest a way out
3) Initiate interaction at various levels from both the states -- farmers, people's science movements, teachers/academics, civil society organizations and so on.
4) The Forum could join as a party to the Supreme Court case and put up its view point

There was a strong suggestion that the Forum should not see the whole issue as a technical one, but more of a people’s issue and involve people in the efforts.

The Forum would soon decide on a definitive course of action in the matter.