Mullaperiyar and Kerala’s technical studies

Why did the empowered committee accept the studies done by Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu in preference to the finding of the professors of Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee and Delhi)? Was it bias? Or did not it have something to do with the quality of the studies.

It is well known that some of the studies were done quickly, just months before they were to be presented before they were to be submitted to the court. The draft of the first part had come with several mistakes that  officials of the Mullaperiyar Special Cell (Kerala) had to go to Delhi to get them corrected. The second part of the seismic stability studies could not even be completed and submitted to the Supreme Court in time.

Expert-Eyes had earlier discussed the errors in the article  Mullaperiyar and environmental impact of raising the water level. Readers and experts can look at the structural stability analysis at http://expert-eyes.org/mullaperiyar/tremours/index.html

Why did the reputed experts of IIT wanted the study to be restricted to official use only. Were they avoiding public scrutiny? If one looks at the executive summary, it has more background than findings. Though Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph had told a press conference in reply to questions that the Irrigation Design and Research Board would publish the PMF and flood routing studies on Mullaperiyar Dam done by IIT, Delhi, and Seismic Stability of Mullaperiyar Composite Dam done by IIT, Roorkee, on its Web site; it is yet to do so. The Department is also refusing to release copies of these and other studies under the Right to Information Act.

See:
Mullaperiyar: Directive against disclosure of dam break analysis
Mullaperiyar: behind the veil
IIT Roorkee seismic report has (only) value of paper says TN

 

Mullaperiyar: Directive against disclosure of dam break analysis

Additional Chief Secretary (Water Resources) of Kerala K. Jayakumar (now the Chief Secretary) has directed that the Dam Break Analysis (Mullaperiyar dam to Idukki Reservoir) should be denied to applicants seeking copies of it under the Right to Information Act.

The Additional Chief Secretary cites Clause 8 (b) of the Act for denying the public copies of the dam break analysis. However, there is no such Clause in the Act. There is, however, a clause 1(b) under Section 8 which states that information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court could be denied to applicants. But, the Office of the Chief Engineer (Inter-State Waters) has failed to provide copies of any court order forbidding publication of the Analysis.

Order against disclosure of Mullaperiyar dam break analysis

Order against disclosure of Mullaperiyar dam break analysis

Moreover, the analysis in question has been placed before the Assembly, and so, it has become a public document in every sense of the term. Moreover, Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph himself had held a press conference disclosing findings in the Analysis at Thodupuzha.

It is also notable that it is the practice world over to publicise results of dam break analysis and inundation studies so that the people are aware of the risks and safe areas. In some countries, it is mandatory to do such analysis and prepare evacuation plans at the time of construction of dams itself. These plans are always brought to the notice of the people and local authorities.

This blog has published map showing  area of submergence from the report of the Mullapeiryar Dam Break Analysis. Mullaperiyar Dam Break Analysis

The full report of the dam break analysis is at Expert-Eyes.Org
You may also want to  read: Mullaperiyar: behind the veil

Regenerated Attappady: boon to Tamil Nadu

After initial hiccups and extension of project implementation periods, the Attapady Wasteland Comprehensive Environmental Conservation Project has achieved many of its objectives. Trees are now growing on the hills, rendered barren in the past, and rivers are flowing even in summer.

Much of the Attappady hills, once covered with evergreen forests, had become wastelands owing to encroachments, unwise agricultural practices and consequent soil erosion, cattle grazing and felling of trees. The project was started in 1995 with funding from the Japan Bank for International Corporation (now JICA) received in 1996, but field work took off only in 2000. The project was targeted to be completed in 2005. However, the situation was not rosy as an extension of project was considered. There has been misuse of funds and corruption and targets were far from achieved.

However, project implementation improved from 2005 and a peak performance in expenditure was achieved by 2010. Then continuation of the project became an issue and further extensions were granted. Another extension with new projects under the implementing agency Attappady Hill Area Development Society is under consideration.  It is pointed out that about 5000 hectares more remained to be developed and the trees planted need to be protected from fire and plunder.Attapady hill planted with trees

Attapady hill planted with trees. The area was barren before planting

A decade is hardly the time for forests to grow back. Patches of barren fields could still be seen amidst the planted trees. (Planting was done in government owned forest land as well as in private lands as conservation measure). Resumption of grazing and felling of trees for fire wood can reverse the trend. However, protection will ensure further regeneration without fresh planting and other project operations.

The fact that restoration is far from complete can be gauged by looking at both banks of Bhavani River. The River, which originates in Silent Valley National Park of Kerala, flows through Attapady for about 25 km and then through the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border for about seven km. If you look across the River into Tamil Nadu side (see photo below), you can see the riparian forest trees growing there whereas the bank on the Kerala side is almost barren. Compare this with the restored hill on the Kerala side close to the River in the photo above.Kerala TN border marked by Bhavani River

Bhavani River Seperating Kerala and Tamil Nadu territory

The re-forestation of Attapady hills would reduce threat of degradation to the buffer areas of the Silent Valley National Park. It would also benefit Tamil Nadu as it increases the flow through the Bhavani River which courses through Coimbatore and Erode districts of Tamil Nadu after leaving Kerala. It is a boon to Tamil Nadu as was the declaration of the Kurinjimala Wildlife Sanctuary in Idukki district. (Covering about the same area of Periyar lease (for Mullaperiyar dam), the shola grasslands of the Sanctuary is capable of retaining about the same quantity of water as could be stored in the Mullaperiyar reservoir and release them gradually throughout the year. Thus Kerala gifted a second Mullaperiyar to TN by conserving water.)

K. T. Thomas and Mullaperiyar

Member of the empowered committee of the Supreme Court on Mullaperiyar K. T. Thomas has stated in an interview to Malayala Manorama that the Mullaperiyar dam will stand for another 100 years.  This should surprise many.

Mullaperiyar dam

Mullaperiyar dam

According to experts, the normal life of a well-built concrete dam is about 60 years. None could predict the life span of a composite dam like Mullaperiyar with accuracy. However, there is enough evidence about the weakness of the old structure which actually stands supported by the concrete backup built by Tamil Nadu as part of strengthening measures. The Central Water Commission itself had acknowledged the weakness of the old structure in 1979, and if the backup would support the waters, its life span is only less than 60 years. (The strengthening measures were proposed for keeping the dam in service for 30 years at water levels higher than 136 feet.) Studies by the IIT, Roorkee and IIT Delhi showed that the composite structure could not stand a once in a 100-year flood or earthquake of the magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale.  Mr. Thomas ignored these findings.

In his report, Mr. Thomas says that the capacity of the Idukki reservoir is 75 tmc and water level in the reservoir had never exceeded 54 tmc. Both these averments are wrong. The capacity of the Idukki reservoir is 70.5 tmc at full reservoir level. It can reach 74.4 tmc at maximum water level. However, water would have to be regulated once it reaches full reservoir level.

The water level in the reservoir had exceeded 70.5 tmc twice and the spillways had been opened. On several occasions, it had crossed 54 tmc. Then, why did Mr. Thomas quote these figures. Is it to substantiate the argument that waters from the Mullaperiyar (11 tmc) would be contained in Idukki reservoir, in case of a failure?

The argument that the former judge actually raises is that the Mullaperiyar reservoir level should be kept at 136 feet so that Idukki could get waters for power generation. This had never been the argument of Kerala and it had never got even five per cent of the water from Mullaperiyar.  (The Committee has rejected Kerala’s demand for allowing environmental flow of 1.1 tmc from the dam, but has suggested that a small pipe outlet can be constructed through the right bank hillock, on the basis of an assessment of need, to enable limited flows. It has also suggested that an intake tunnel should be constructed at 50 feet from the base of the dam to Tamil Nadu.  Even without such a tunnel Tamil Nadu is drawing almost all the waters from the dam. With such a tunnel, it will not have to spare any waters for Kerala even upon lowering of the reservoir level, but for anything conceded as required environment flow.)

Kerala wanted the level to be kept at 136 feet for safety reasons. However, the argument that the dam is unsafe had been rejected by the Committee. So, it may be better for Kerala to change the demand for new dam as neither the Centre nor Tamil Nadu are going to agree to that given the findings of the Committee.

So, it should call for phased decommissioning of the dam on the basis of continuous evaluation of the condition of the dam by a competent body like the Dam Safety Commission. (A tunnel at a lower level as proposed by the Committee could aid this by allowing Tamil Nadu to draw water at current levels for years).  Kerala should also press for its lower riparian rights and a good share of its own waters which had been denied to it through an agreement between a weak princely State and a colonial power.

Mullaperiyar: strategic failure of Kerala government

The report of the empowered committee of the Supreme Court is the result of a strategic failure from the part of the Kerala government.

The Central Water Commission was actually the opposite party in the case for Kerala. Yet, it failed to prevent those associated with the Commission from undertaking safety related assessment of the Mullaperiyar dam.  (Technical members of the Committee C.D. Thatte and D. K. Mehta were former Secretary to the Ministry of Water Resources and retired Chief Engineer, Central Water Commission respectively.)

Kerala nominated retired Supreme Court Judge K. T. Thomas to the committee. This was a strategic mistake as what Kerala needed was a man who could understand and judge technical matters and argue on technical issues.  Kerala could have better argued legal points before the Court itself instead of having a legal luminary in the committee. It seems that Mr. Thomas did not push forward any legal issues. He failed to express his views strongly on technical matters, he being not a technical expert.  The result is the finding by essentially by Mr. Thatte and Mehta that the dam is structurally and hydrologically safe.

In the process, they ignored studies by IIT, Roorkie and IIT Delhi which had found that the dam was not structurally and hydrologically safe.  It was true that they had done the studies in a hurry and this affected its quality. However, there were irrefutable facts in their reports which the twosome has ignored.

Core sampling and its examination for strength was important in determining whether the dam was strong enough to withstand earthquakes and higher water levels.  During drilling, proper samples could not be obtained except from the foundation, apparently because portions of the old dam were hollow.  However, it seems that the committee submitted its report before the results of the study came in.  Kerala should have insisted that the report should wait the finding of the study.

Now, Kerala would find it extremely difficult to argue technical points before the Court. The Court cannot be convinced easily that the dam is unsafe, as judges would attach value to the report of the empowered committee.

It may also be worth examining why Kerala made strategic mistakes.  The government had always failure to act in time and in a coordinated manner. Its engineers did not see eye-to-eye on several matters. Its lawyers were not often briefed properly by its engineers. Politicians concentrated on playing to the gallery and there were often allegations against both the politicians and officials who were in charge of fighting the Mullaperiyar case over the past two decades.  It is also worth noting that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa herself had alleged that Kerala politicians had land in areas irrigated by waters from Mullapeiryar.

For further reading:
Mullaperiyar– in search of truth
Mullaperiyar and dam safety
Mullaperiyar dam dispute
http://keralaviews.wordpress.com/tag/mullaperiyar/

Leases and rents

Opinion may be divided on whether the State government should move now to collect revised rents from Tamil Nadu for the forest land leased to it. However, a legislature committee had suggested last year that it should and its report has now been published by the Legislature Secretariat.

More than what the report says, there may be something to read between the lines in the report.

An Act had been passed by the Assembly as back as in 1980 to revise the rent on grants and leases given by the erstwhile princely States of Travancore and Kochi which later became part of Kerala. However, it remained unimplemented for years, allowing large gains for the plantations. In the nineties, the Forest Secretary stayed revision of the rents on a representation given by planters. Though the Act was subsequently amended to reduce the rents proposed and remove some practical difficulties, it took years for the law to get the President’s assent. The Central department delayed it raising questions such as those relating to the profitability of plantations though they were not relevant to assent for an Act passed by the legislature after due consideration.

Government’s after government deferred implementation of the Act. At one point, the late T. M. Jacob of Kerala Congress raised a written allegation in the Assembly that bribes had been taken to delay revision of the rents. Finally, it was the last LDF government that gave the green signal for enforcement of the Act. However, steps were taken only in some districts such Thrissur for revision and the process is yet to be completed.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

Periyar Tiger Reserve ........................................................ Photo: Roy Mathew

The Public Accounts Committee has not delved into these issues apparently because it was dealing with Periyar Tiger Reserve area. (Besides, other committees have gone into the issue previously and even quantified the losses to the exchequer. The LDF government had estimated the losses as per the amended Act to be about Rs. 18 crore a year in its Budget). It finds that besides the Periyar lease in favour of Tamil Nadu, there are other lease holders in the Reserve area including the public sector Kerala Tourism Development Corporation and a private plantation contiguous to the protected area.  The Committee has firmly recommended that their rents should be revised, but has suggested that the provisions of the Act should be verified in relation to the Periyar lease. It has not gone into detailed examination whether the provisions of the Act applies to the Periyar lease but left it to officials to examine the question and renew the rent. The Forest Department has maintained that the matter could not be decided at its level because it is an inter-State matter.

An interesting aspect of the report is the strictures made by the committee over the delay in notification of the contiguous habitats of the Reserve as ecologically fragile, as envisaged in the Environment Protection Act for the past 30 years.  It also criticizes the quarrying done by Public Works Department of Tamil Nadu in the area during the period. Was the notification been delayed for the benefit of the lease holders in the area?

If the Kerala government now proceeds to revise the rent of the Periyar lease under the Act, it would have the effect of the State recognising the validity of the lease deed as it had done indirectly in 1979 by signing a supplementary agreement. The supplementary agreement is now considered as a major blunder of Kerala government. So, it the rent is to be revised, the Kerala government would have to first cancel the original lease deed (this will require legislation unless violation of lease deed could be cited) and grant fresh lease with revised rent for a limited period.

Recommendations of the PAC

Mullaperiyar dam break analysis: area of submergence

Much of the discussion in the Dam Break Analysis (Mullaperiyar to Idukki reservoir) done by the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, is about the height and speed of the water flow in case of failure of Mullaperiyar dam. As to the lives of people living downstream of the dam, it matters little whether the water would be flowing in at a height of 40 metres or 20 metres or with a velocity of 40 kilometres a hour. Even water flowing at, say, ten km an hour and a few metres high will claim lives. But width of the flow matters as that determines who all living near the river course would be affected.

The analysis shows that the top width of the flow would be less than 300 metres for the first 30 km of the path of flow along the river course. For the rest of the 15 km before reaching Idukki reservoir, the top width exceed half a km only at two points. However, the accompanying inundation maps show that water could spread out in low lying areas.

The study does not say anything about the chance of small hills or elevated portions on the sides of the river course being breached and water flowing into Pathanamthitta district.

Given below are the inundation maps. They are photographs of the original map prepared by the IIT. The image is not to scale because of distortions resulting from placement of the map and camera perspective. Locational information may be visible only in terms of longitudes and latitudes in the photo except for a few place names such as Vallakkadavu, Vandiperiyar and Upputhara. (The original map is a larger one plotted against a top sheet of 1:25000 scale.)

Dam break analysis

Map showing area that would be inundated by dam break flood from Mullaperiyar

Split Map 1:

Mullaperiyar- inundation-Upputhara

Map showing area at Upputhara that would be inundated by dam break flood from Mullaperiyar

Split Map 2 Mullaperiyar-inundation-Vandiperiyar

Map showing area at Vandiperiyar that would be inundated by dam break flood from Mullaperiyar

Analysis and discussion of results forming part of the Dam Break Analysis.
Mullaperiyar Dam break analysis by IIT Roorkee in full

Mullaperiyar: behind the veil

It seems that the Inter-State Waters wing of the IDRB under the Irrigation Department has something to hide regarding the way it commissioned studies and presented facts before the Supreme Court.

In the case between Mullaperiyar Environmental Protection Forum v. Union of India and Others decided On: 27.02.2006, Kerala had failed to present its case properly and forcefully. This even resulted in the Mullaperiyar dam being recorded in the judgement as a masonry dam instead of as a composite dam. This weakened Kerala’s case because masonry dams, in general, have a longer life. Problems specific to Mullaperiyar, its structure, quality of the lime-surkhi mixture used and causes of weakness were never elucidated before the Court with supporting material. Kerala even failed to challenge Tamil Nadu’s contention that the waters from Mullaperiyar would be contained in Idukki reservoir in case of a failure of the former.

The judgement said: “Further, it is pertinent to note that the dam immediately in line after
Mullaperiyar dam is Idukki dam. It is the case of State of Kerala that despite the ‘copious
rain’, the Idukki reservoir is not filled to its capacity, while the capacity of reservoir is
70.500 TMC, it was filled only to the extent of 57.365 TMC. This also shows that
assuming the worst happens, more than 11 TMC water would be taken by Idukki dam.

It seems that nobody seemed to have cared to tell the Court that there are about 50000 people living between Mullaperiyar and Idukki who would be killed in case of breach of Mullaperiyar dam. (Analyses show that about 8800 houses would be submerged). Did the Court think that the area downstream of Mullaperiyar were all forests, given that the State’s arguments were all about disturbance to animals in the Periyar Tiger Reserve from raising of the water level? Why did Kerala make a case of Kerala that Idukki reservoir was filled only to the extent of 57.365 TMC, especially when the facts were to the contrary?

Kerala seems to be lackadaisical in efficiently and ably arguing the present case before the Supreme Court (filed by Tamil Nadu challenging Kerala’s law that mandated that the reservoir level of Mullaperiyar dam should not exceed 136 feet for safety reasons). Several of the studies commissioned by the IDRB were done in a hurry at the last minute. Studies like that on the Ecological Impact Assessment of Water Level Increase at Mullapperiyar Dam were full of wrong assumptions and errors.

When it commissioned a study by IIT, Roorkee, on the threat posed to the dam from earthquakes, there was hardly time to complete in time. The first draft was full of factual mistakes and none from the IDRB was willing to quickly go to Roorkee and get the errors corrected. By the time the Department forced someone to go and the final version was readied, it was too late. The Court did not accept that as the time for producing evidence was over. A dam break analysis was not in sight even then.

The dam break analysis was quickly commissioned when the Empowered Committee of the Court was seized of the matter. Though Committee’s term is about to expire, only the first part of the study is over. The IDRB is refusing to divulge the full details of the study to the public. Tactics were raised to prevent furnishing of the documents relating to the analysis and material produced before Court. I reproduce below the details of the RTI request and response of the Department.

The following documents were requested under RTI Act:

  1. Copy of dam-break analysis /inundation study for Mullaperiyar done by IIT, Delhi.
  2. Copies of submissions, statements, argument notes and affidavits made by Kerala in the Mullaperiyar case filed by Tamil Nadu (challenging Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Amendment Act) before the Supreme Court and its Empowered Committee.

The reply from the Office of Chief Engineer was as follows:

An appeal was filed against this as follows:

Roy Mathew
F-42 RBI Staff Quarters
Plammoodu, Pattom
Trivandrum 695 004

Appellate Authority under RTI Act
Office of the Chief Engineer (ISW)
IDRB, 3rd Floor, Vikas Bhavan
Trivandrum 695033

Sir,

Sub: Appeal on decision of State Information Officer on request for supply of documents regarding Mullaperiyar case, regarding,

Ref: Letter No. IDRB/ISW/AD2/2594/2010 Vol V from Public Information Officer dated February 29, 2012.

  1. The request for copy of dam break analysis is rejected on the ground that the IIT Delhi had not conducted such as a study on Mullaperiyar dam. The reference to IIT Delhi was only an error in the request which was otherwise clear. Section 5(3) of the RTI Act specifies that the PIO should render reasonable assistance to persons seeking information. So, it is imperative that the PIO should have pointed out that the study was done by IIT Roorkee and proceeded to supply the information. The PIO has thus infringed the Act in letter and spirit. Hence, I request you to order immediate supply of copy of the analysis done by IIT Roorkee.
  2. The Sections and subsection quoted by the PIO in rejecting my application for copies of submissions, statements, argument notes and affidavits made by Kerala in the Mullaperiyar case do not exist. However, I assume she is referring to sub clauses of Section 8 (1). Affidavits and other documents submitted to the court are public documents once it is filed before the court. Hence, there is no ground for rejecting my request under 8(1). Moreover, the strategic interest referred to in Section 8 Clause (1) Sub clause (a) of the Act refers to the sovereign State of India in relation to foreign States and not to states of India such as Kerala or Tamil Nadu. Section 8(1h) do not apply as no prosecution or apprehension of offenders is involved in the Mullaperiyar case.
  3. In view of these above reasons, I request you to set aside the objections raised by the PIO and order release of the information without any further delay.

 

Trivandrum                                                                                                      Yours truly

9-3-2012                                                                                                          Roy Mathew

 

The Appellate Authority did not respond directly to the points of appeal. Instead, it came up with a new argument that the dam break analysis has not been completed.

Apparently, the Department did not want the public to know how it is fighting the case and the quality of studies being commissioned by it. So, Expert-Eyes will be making efforts to bring these materials to the attention of the public. Though the Department is refusing to provide the material, we have the executive summary  and conclusions of the  dam break analysis and more at http://expert-eyes.org/mullaperiyar/index.html

Let the experts have a look at it.

 

“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

 Lord Northcliffe