Kerala-appointed technical committee approves new dam at Mullaperiyar

Mullaperiyar Dam. File photo: Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: Constructing a new dam at Mullaperiyar will not affect the environment, a Kerala government-appointed technical committee has said.

The panel also recommended the state to take up construction activities at the proposed site, a few meters downstream from the existing controversial structure.

The technical committee, comprising experts from the State Irrigation Department and the Kerala Forest Research Institute at Peechi in Thrissur district, made the recommendations after studying a three-volume draft environmental impact report submitted by a state-appointed contract agency.

The agency, Hyderabad-based Pragathi Labs and Consultants Private Limited, studied the environmental impact the proposed structure may cause to the catchment areas of the existing and planned dams. The draft report was submitted to the irrigation department.

The construction of the new dam will have no impact — directly or indirectly — on the environment, flora and fauna, and the eco-diversity of the region, the report said.

Pragathy carried out the study on 50 hectares, the site identified for the new dam. It will hand over the final environmental impact study report to the irrigation department within a month.

The 127-year-old existing structure, a masonry gravity dam on the River Periyar, is located at Kumily panchayat in Idukki district's Peermade taluk. The site identified for the proposed dam is 366 metres downstream the present one, and is located within the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

With the technical committee approving the draft report, Kerala has initiated steps to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR). The site for the new dam was identified in 1979 itself, and Kerala decided to go ahead with the DPR in 2011. The estimated construction cost then was Rs 600 crore.

Kerala had then completed soil tests (Proctor Compaction Soil Test) and even drew up the dam's plan. The move to construct the dam did not proceed further with Tamil Nadu objecting to it.

Under the current circumstances, the irrigation department has completed 40 per cent of the works for altering the plan. According to the department's estimates, the construction of the dam would now cost Rs 1,100-1,500 crore.

Kerala will need three months for preparing a new DPR. Once prepared, it will be submitted to the Central Water Commission and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for their approval.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that the new dam could be constructed if both Tamil Nadu and Kerala arrived at a consensus. Once Tamil Nadu approves the construction, the dam could be completed in five to 10 years.

Chief secretaries to meet today

The chief secretaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala will discuss the Mullaperiyar issue in Chennai on Monday, based on the directives of the Supreme Court-appointed supervisory committee.

The panel had directed both states to hold chief secretary-level talks to sort out the issue.

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