Thiruvananthapuram: Vast tracts of land in Tamil Nadu continue to be irrigated by water from the Mullaperiyar Dam, which has been a recurring source of friction between the neighbouring state of Kerala.
Significantly, Friday, October 29, 2021 marks the 135th anniversary of the signing of the lease agreement for diverting water from the Mullaperiyar river basin to Tamil Nadu for agriculture purposes. In a pure coincidence, the shutters of the dam were opened earlier on this day as a precaution in light of the intense rains in the catchment area and the subsequent rise in the level of water in the reservoir.
It was on October 29, 1886 that a lease pact, titled "Periyar Lease Agreement", was entered into by the Maharaja of Travancore Sree Moolam Thirunal and the representatives of the British Raj. The then Maharaja of Travancore, Sree Moolam Thirunal, termed it as the one which he signed "with his blood from the heart". The Maharaja's words contained all his pain and agony in signing the agreement for a period of 999 years, and the pact haunted present-day Kerala as a spate of controversies over the old dam and court battles over it proved.
The agreement, which lost its validity after the British left India after Indian Independence, was renewed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu by entering into supplementary agreements on May 29, 1970. This was done without the consent of the Kerala State Assembly.
According to the renewed agreement, the tax per acre for Kerala was increased to Rs 30. The charge for Tamil Nadu was fixed at Rs 12 per kilowatt per hour for the electricity generated at the Periyar Power Station using water from Mullaperiyar. This power plant is located at Lower Camp, close to the Kerala border, in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu.
A clause in the agreement provides for renewing the lease agreement every 30 years. As per this clause, the agreement should have been renewed in the year 2000. But Kerala did not hike the lease amount as it received a legal advice that any such action would be construed as an acceptance of the agreement by the State. But Tamil Nadu is still paying Kerala the lease amount as per the old rate.
The five districts in Tamil Nadu which face acute water shortage are the beneficiaries of the agreement. Moreover, Tamil Nadu is generating power to the tune of Rs 700 crore from the hydel plant by making use of the water diverted from Mullaperiyar dam into the Vaigai river in Tamil Nadu.
Seven clauses in lease pact
The agreement signed between Travancore Dewan V Ram Iyengar and the Travancore-Kochi Resident of Madras, John Child Hannington in 1886 contains seven clauses.
As per the agreement, the Kingdom of Travancore gave 8,000 acres of land for the reservoir and another 100 acres to construct the dam.
The tax to be given to Travancore for each acre was fixed at Rs 5 per year. In the initial days, Travancore used to get Rs 40,000 as annual lease fee. The construction of the Mullaperiyar dam, which began in 1886, was finished in 1895.