Residents in the vicinity of Mullaperiyar Dam live in perpetual fear

Residents in vicinity of Mullaperiyar Dam live in perpetual fear
Gomathiyamma sits at the banks of Periyar river. Photo: Manorama

Idukki: The shutters of the Mullaperiyar Dam have been lifted quite a few times in the last couple of months following unusually heavy rains in its catchment areas. Adding to worries Tamil Nadu personnel manning the dam has been releasing water without adequate warning of late. Naturally, those living on the banks of the River Periyar downstream the Mullaperiyar Dam, particularly in Vandiperiyar, Vallakkadavu and Ayyappankovil, know their nightmare about getting marooned in the surging waters could come true anytime.

Sleepless nights have become the norm in several homes close to the dam ever since incessant rains in the dam's catchment area started delivering copious amounts of water into the reservoir. The water flowing down the Periyar often enter their homes even in the dead of the night. They have made several representations to those concerned, but in vain.

Nightmarish life

Life is nightmarish in Vandiperiyar. Residents stay awake at night, ready to shift with small children. Lack of sleep have been affecting them in several ways, with many unable to go for work the next day.

Local residents said the water even rose to the level of 2018 floods on Monday as water was released from the day. With the reservoir releasing 12,654 cubic feet of water, the causeway at Vallakkadavu was flooded around 9.30 pm. More than 20 houses at Vallakkadavu, Vikas Nagar, Manjumala, Injukkadu Aattoram, Kassikkadu Aattoram and Kuruppu Paalam on the banks of the Periyar were flooded.

Water inundated the houses of Krishnan Sivamangalam, Vijayakumar Thankaraj, D Rajan, Shihabbuddin Puthanpurackal, Joshwa Muthil, Seena Shahul Puthanveedu, John Muthukunnathu, Lissie Lawrence Puthanveedu, Selvam Rajamani, Babu Povas Puthanveedu, Asha Thampi, Latheef Puthanveendu, Anoop Chandran, and Abdul Khader.

The area also witnessed several protests against Tamil Nadu raising the shutters of the spillway at night.

Panic gripped Upputhara

Fear gripped the residents of Upputhara, Ayyappankovil and neighbouring panchayats too when Tamil Nadu released 12,654 cubic feet of water to the River Periyar on Monday night. As much as 12,654 cubic feet of water was released around 8.30 pm on Monday.

Bedridden patients were shifted to safer grounds in ambulances, and several others found shelter with relatives or friends.

Copious amounts of water gushed into the area around 12 midnight.

Residents said the water did not flood the causeway here since the water level in the river was low. Even as the water rose, people took refuge on the causeway. Police and fire and rescue personnel, too, reached the area.

Warnings come late

The Idukki district administration often issues a warning saying the dam's shutters will be opened. The warnings, however, mostly come late. The water would have gushed into their houses before the residents on the banks of the River Periyar received the warning, leaving them helpless, scared and frustrated.

The residents of Vandiperiyar, Vallakkadavu and Ayyappankovil have only one request: do not open the shutters at night. Despite their requests, the shutters were opened on the nights of November 30 and December 2.

The vulnerable residents who were shifted to relief camps from their flooded houses have returned. They are now cleaning their houses, filled with muck and sand to make them habitable again.

Roshy faces public wrath

Anger is palpable in the area after the residents were forced to evacuate three times in a week. They vented their anger when the Minister for Water Resources, Roshy Augustine, visited the area to assess the ground situation after the shutters were opened. The residents met the minister at Kuruppu Palam on Monday night, and registered their protest. They alleged that the government has been inactive except for issuing warnings.

Minister Augustine tried to explain the situation. Kerala has repeatedly demanded Tamil Nadu not release water at night, but the neighbouring State has been continuing to raise shutters after sunset.

The people were in no mood to accept the explanation. "It's a matter of life and death," they retorted. It was then that the minister expressed his helplessness.

"What can I do? You tell me," Augustine said, and detailed the safety steps that have been initiated. He reiterated that Kerala had repeatedly asked Tamil Nadu to release water during day time if water level is likely to rise in the night.

"We have requested Tamil Nadu not to release water at night," he repeated.

The argument and counter-argument between the minister went on for about 30 minutes. Augustine assured them that he would stand by the people, and he is not the one to scoot when there is an issue.

The minister was at Kuruppu Palam to directly interact with the flood-affected people. The irate crowd demanded that the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) and Additional District Magistrate (ADM) should not visit the banks of Periyar. Police pacified the people and defused the situation.

Protests against Tamil Nadu

The Mullaperiyar Citizen's Council staged a protest at Kakki Junction against Tamil Nadu releasing water without issuing adequate advance warning.

Police foiled the attempt of the council to stage a blockade of the national highway. Cyriac Thomas, T Rajendran, Naushad Varikkad, K A Siddique and Kabeer Thannimoottil addressed the protesting activists.

CPI workers, too, took out a protest rally under former MLA E S Bijimol. P N Abdul Azeez inaugurated a protest by the Indian Union Muslim League at Kakki Junction. T H Abdul Samad, V N Ayoob, O P Shafeeq, M V Tahir and Anwar Hassan addressed the protest meet.

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