“Mullaperiyar Issue Needs Amicable Solution” —Oomen Chandy, Chief Minister, Kerala
“There is no need for Tamil Nadu to feel worried or betrayed. The government and the people of Kerala are in unison to provide drinking water to Tamil Nadu as it has always been in the case with Mullaperiyar Dam. But there has to be safety for the people of Kerala and the state government has to take action considering the huge risk involved, if, at all, some untoward incident happens,” said Oomen Chendy, Chief Minister of Kerala. He spoke at length with Uday India in Thiruvananthapuram on the issue of Mullaperiyar Dam. Excerpts:
There are several serious issues now arising between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but do you feel that a settlement is possible between the two states?
Definitely, a settlement is possible between the two states. Kerala has always been maintaining the position that we are for the safety of our people and at the same time for providing drinking water to the people of Tamil Nadu.
Do you feel that the relationship with Tamil Nadu is on the verge of breakdown?
I don’t think that the relationship between the people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are on the verge of breakdown, instead people of both the states are mutually helping and supporting each other. So there is no question of any bitter relationship between the people of the two states owing to this issue.
Tamil Nadu has the other day agreed for a discussion at the officers’ level in the Mullaperiyar issue. As the Chief Minister of Kerala are you satisfied with the manner in which this issue is progressing?
I think that I am not satisfied with the progress on this issue. We do have a very cordial relationship with Tamil Nadu and we want to continue this relationship. We have already given assurances that we will continue to provide water to Tamil Nadu without any hindrance and we are even ready to give any guarantee if there are any doubts on this issue. The people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala should, however, not have any ill-feeling between them and I am deeply pained at this development.
There has been a difference of opinion between you and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister regarding the number of tremors which have occurred in the dam area. Can you clarify your position?
Actually there have been 27 tremors in that area since July. I have sent all these details along with a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. These tremors have in fact created a panicky situation in Kerala, Also it is to be reminded that we have been living with the fear of Mullaperiyar for several years as the dam is more than one hundred years old and also old technology was used in constructing this dam.
Who do you hold responsible for the worsening relationship between the two states? Is it because political parties are stoking passions?
I will not find fault with anybody or accuse anybody. They may be suspicious about our intentions, but I have repeatedly said we are ready to clear all their doubts and give any assurances to execute a mutual agreement or a tripartite agreement in the presence of the central government. We are ready to give assurances before the Supreme Court. We are even ready to pass a law so that the present supply of water could be continued. We are only concerned about the safety of the people. But, unfortunately, there is a feeling in Tamil Nadu that the situation of panic here is a created one. That is not at all correct.
The Tamil Nadu side has already refuted this and has said that a dam built by Karikala Cholan is 1000 years old and is still functioning?
We are worried about the safety of the dam only because of the recurrent tremors that occur in the area. We are also worried because Tamil Nadu does not see our sincerity.
What is your suggestion for settling this issue which has evoked passions across the border?
We want an amicable solution so that the cordial atmosphere between the two states is not disturbed. Tamil Nadu must understand the feelings of the people of Kerala. They must understand that we are worried about the safety of the people living there.
Are you willing to talk to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister?
I am ready to talk to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. However, the response from her to my letter was in the negative. If she had given some positive signals then I would have already started the talks. Kerala wants to solve this issue as soon as possible in an amicable manner.
Do you feel that situation will go out of hand as for the past few days there have been attacks on the Tamilians in Kerala and on the Keralites in Tamil Nadu?
I don’t think that the situation will go out of hand. The government has given a strong instruction to the police to use proper force to suppress any violence on Tamil people. The state DGP has already visited the place and has taken charge of the situation.
The political leaders from two sides have been making provocative statements and agitating even when passions are running high. How do you look at this?
In a democratic set-up, there may be agitations and they may even use strong words. You cannot avoid that. But I see to it that this will not affect the cordial relationship between the two states.
The Congress state president Ramesh Chennithala and several ministers of your cabinet had conducted a token fast for constructing a new Dam in Mullaperiyar. Have all these agitations not resulted in the people of the state turning hostile?
I have appealed to all political party leaders not to give any provocative statements on this sensitive issue. However, fasting for protest has not created any provocation. People of Kerala will not take law into their own hands and the state government has made all necessary arrangements to prevent any untoward incident.
Your cabinet colleague and state water resources minister PJ Joseph has issued a statement that he would go on an indefinite fast at Rajghat if the demand for a new dam is not met and the central government dose not bring out a solution before December 27. What is Your comment on this?
My colleague Mr Joseph has not done anything wrong in this regard. As I said earlier, conducting a fast is the best way of protest which was promoted by none other than Mahatma Gandhi in our country. I hope that the issue would be resolved and settled before that.
Is a new dam the only solution to this vexed issue?
Yes, I strongly believe that the only solution to the safety of the people of Kerala is the construction of a new dam.
Can the Government of Kerala build a new dam on its own?
The state is not in a good position financially and is in fact in crisis. However, we will find resources somehow and build a new dam. We take full responsibility for this as our priority is the safety of our people.
The main apprehension on the part of Tamil Nadu is that once a new dam is built there will be a reduced supply of water. Will you provide water at the same level to Tamil Nadu even after a new dam is built?
There is no need for the people of Tamil Nadu to have any worries at all. There will not be a drop less of water as we will be providing the same amount of water as they get now.
What sort of solution are you expecting?
We want a mutually agreeable solution and if this dose not happen, we want a tripartrite settlement with the central government as the main mediator.
Do you feel that the Central Government has let you down?
No. The central government has its own limitations
What are the limitations?
This is an interstate dispute and the central government can initiate mediation only and it is for the states concerned to mutually settle the issue.
By Reshmi Padma from Thiruvananthapuram