New Delhi: In an attempt to allay public concerns over the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam, the Kerala government has asked the department of science and technology to implement a real-time monitoring system for water build-up in the reservoir.
The attempt is to present a “factual and emotion-free” picture of the dam’s condition, government officials associated with the project said.
The system will consist of a network of cameras and water pressure sensors to predict levels of water build-up in the dam and provide at least a half-hour leeway for evacuation in case of a threat.
“This is the first time that such a system is being set up in the country to monitor water-build-up in dams,” said Nivedita Haran, additional chief secretary, Kerala. “We are trying to develop a system that can factually estimate the danger levels in the dam. It will be a system to assess danger levels emotionlessly.”
The Mullaperiyar reservoir, over the Periyar river in Kerala, provides water to several parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Both states have been locked in fractious disputes over the dam. Kerala contends the dam is old, has structural problems, and needs to be replaced with a new, stronger reservoir. Tamil Nadu refutes this as a ruse by Kerala to gain legal rights over the dam and potentially deny it its share of water.
While several expert committees—including one appointed by the Supreme Court—have over the years analysed the risks posed by the dam, it continues to evoke strong reactions in both states.
Last year, there were fresh concerns over the dam’s safety following an unusually high number of earthquakes in the adjoining Idukki district.
The project is to be completed by June, according to an agreement between the Union government and the state government. The agreement has been viewed by Mint.
“...Using this network, the dam structure can be remotely monitored round the clock for any damage that may come about due to earthquakes in the near vicinity. If any damage visible or otherwise occurs, the seriousness of such conditions can be remotely assessed...,” the agreement states.
The initiative follows a larger initiative by the Mission for Geospatial Applications, an arm of the department of science and technology, to develop a flood forecast system. Currently, dams and water levels in reservoirs are monitored by physically examining the rise in water level.
“In today’s age, we should be harnessing technology better,” said Haran. “The monitoring apart, we’ve drawn up evacuation routes as well planning temporary shelters for people at convenient points in case of an eventuality.”
However, independent analysts said the state government’s move could potentially exacerbate fears in Kerala.
“That the government is moving to more intensively monitor the dam is consistent with its position, but would have people thinking that there is so great a danger that monitoring needs to be stepped up,” said Vinoj Abraham of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. “It wouldn’t make much of difference to the existing positions of both states,” he said.