After the master stroke, super strike

If Opposition Leader Achuthanandan’s statement was a master stroke, CPI (M) Idukki district secretary M. M. Mani’s speech was a super strike.

M. M. Mani

M. M. Mani

Mr. Mani surely knew that it would recoil on his party. However, firing at the target was more important.  However, the media attention did not turn much attention towards Achuthanandan who was the party State secretary when the political murders mentioned by Mani took place.

The media is yet to ask questions whether Mr. Achuthanandan was aware of the murders in Idukki district. If he knew nothing about the list that Mr. Mani said the party had drawn up, what did he do when the serial killings were reported one after another?

The damage done to the party by Mani’s speech prompted party State secretary Pinarai Vijayan to call upon leaders to desist from making public statements against party policy,  in a bid to restore the truce that did not hold. What is notable is that both Mr. Vijayan and Achuthanandan are now criticising Mani in unison.

For further reading:

CPI (M) Idukki secretary stirs up a hornets’ nest
CPI (M) distances itself from Mani’s comment on eliminating political rivals
Pinarayi’s criticism of Mani not sincere: Chandy

We have killed enemies, CPI (M) not scare to own them up…
The bloody past of CPM in Idukki Spice Belt

Update (3-6-2012): V. S. Achuthananan has effectively neutralised Mani by visiting the home of slain leader T. P. Chandrasekharan. He has thus identified with the victims. Nobody is asking whether he knew of the serial killings by party men in Idukki district in the eighties.

Petrol, automobiles and the rich

A lot of noise is generated in Kerala every time the petrol and diesel prices go up. However, does most of the Malayalees care about the price rise except for the political rhetoric generated over that?

The only section that cares is the ordinary office goes who don’t get a vehicle allowance. However, even for the government employee, today’s price hike came with an announcement of seven per cent dearness allowance with retrospective effect from January.

The worst affected is those living below the poverty line. However they don’t often realise the impact of petrol prices when announced. They feel it in the form of bus fare hikes later, and all round increase in prices which they may fail to connect to the fuel costs.

car show room

An automobile showroom in Malappuram district

For the neo-rich, it does not matter. There is enough money in their hands to burn off petrol and diesel whatever be the costs. One sees a few drivers in posh vehicles parked on the Secretariat lawns every day burning away diesel to run the air-conditioners while their bosses or relatives visit ministers and officials at the Secretariat.  (Those in the Secretariat do not care though it pollutes the area.)

For many, money is pouring in from Gulf countries. The value of rupee has plummeted, and that means increased incomes for those at home. So, who care about the petrol price hikes? The Malappuram district, which was one of the most backward districts in the State, now sports large vehicle show rooms and shopping centres.  The largest show rooms of car dealers could now be seen along the highway between Angadippuram and Malappuram.  The Muslim League Ministers have seen to it that the road network improved.

However, the road network across the State is far from sufficient for increasing number of passenger car units. One sees large vehicles transporting cars blocking the highways and the problem is going to increase with increasing container traffic from Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam port (when realized).

Proposals for expressway and widening of major highways are in limbo. Other works like the Kerala Road Development Project are in limbo. So, also are the proposals to improve the public transport system, especially the rail network including metros and mono rails.

Kerala will be burning away more petrol in the coming years as the traffic slows down along all major roads and highways.  The government does see the problem, but is failing to act. Well, in Pathanamthitta, they want an airport.


And again the Petrol Price Hike!!!


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.)

Master stroke by Achuthanandan

V. S. Achuthanandan has delivered a political master stroke by proposing to step down as Opposition Leader and demanding discussion in the CP I (M) about issues surrounding the murder of the RMP leader T. P. Chandrasekharan in the party. It demonstrates that he is a master political strategist.

V. S. Achuthanandan

V. S. Achuthanandan

His action pre-empts likely move by the official faction in the State unit of the party to remove him from the position of the Opposition Leader over his statements in the Chandrasekharan issue. He has also foreseen that his position would be weakened by the government decision to commence vigilance probe against his son.

Mr. Achuthanandan has also seized the initiative by seeking discussions on the Chandrasekharan issue in the State and Central committees in his letter reportedly sent to the party secretary Prakash Karat as well as polit bureau member Sitaram Yachuri. He has stated his position clearly and has also said that he was not being consulted on important party matters.  Now, discussions about his indiscipline in the party could not take precedence over organizational issues he has raised.

He has also demanded the reorganization of the State Committee. Though he would not be able to carry that through, the opposite camp would find it almost impossible to dislodge him from the Central committee.

Virtual truce in Kerala unit of the CPI (M)

There would be a virtual truce in the State unit of the party until after the Neyyattinkara by-poll in June. This is partly the outcome of the talks the RSP leader T. J. Chandrachoodan had with the Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan whom he met after informing the CPI (M) leadership on May 14. Both party State secretary Pinarai Vijayan and Mr. Achuthanandan would not make statements that would intensify the faction fight between them.

Pinarai Vijayan

Pinarai Vijayan

Mr. Achuthanandan reportedly declined to make amends to his stated stand on the murder of the Revolutionary Marxist Party leader T. P. Chandrasekharan during talks with Mr. Chandrachoodan.  This would help him to keep the rebellious cadre opposed to the official faction in Neyyattinkara with him until after the elections.  He has already written to the party’s Central leadership that his statements were in tune with the party’s policy of bringing back lost cadre, and the Central leadership would  keep mum until after the elections.

After the elections, the CPI (M) may go through the motions of taking action against Mr. Achuthanandan whose conduct amounts to gross indiscipline according to the precepts of the party.  And Mr. Achuthanandan may, as in the past, go through the act of submission to the party.

Update: (16/5/2012)

The truce was technically broken with the State Secretariat issuing a statement on Tuesday describing Onchiyam dissidents as psuedo revolutionaries gripped by parliamentary greed and noted for their absence of communist values. The statement almost coincided with Polit bureau member Sitaram Yechuri’s averment in Delhi that the party had directed the State leadership to make any more controversial statements.

Achuthanandan opens a new front; only to retreat?

Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan has opened a new front in his fight against the party faction led by Pinarai Vijayan in the Kerala unit of the CPI (M) by identifying himself with the cause of the party rebels at Onchiyam in Kozhikode district.

V. S. Achuthanandan

V. S. Achuthanandan

What is most striking about his latest statement made at a press conference is the comparisons made between Pinarai and S. A. Dange (chairman of the undivided communist party, 1962-64) as well as the comrades of Ochiyam and those who rebelled against the Dange line. The comparison between those who opposed Dange and those who rebelled at Ochiyam is far-fetched. However, what Achuthanandan wants to project here is his role in splitting the CPI in 1964 accusing Dange of revisionism.

However, those who think that Mr. Achuthanandan would split the party now would probably be disappointed. His words have hardly ever been followed by deeds. He is known to put two steps forward and two steps backwards, be it his Munnar mission as Chief Minister or crusade in the party.

He would find strategic and policy justifications to explain his stand in party for a, though they would not be acceptable to the opposite camp. He has already noted that it is party’s policy to bring back deserters instead of branding them as betrayers of the communist collective and renegades and preventing their eventual return.

Moreover, what better strategy is there than to identify with the slain T. P. Chandrasekharan on the run up to the by-election when the murder was bound to affect the party’s prospects at Neyyattinkara. Moreover, there is simmering anger among a section of the party cadre in the Malabar area over the murder in which the needle of suspicion is pointed to the CPI (M).  The storm being created by Mr. Achuthanandan would persuade at least many of them to stay on and fight from within the party against policy aberrations.

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.  (It is also notable that the former judge has suggested that an intake tunnel should be constructed at 50 feet from the base of the dam.  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.)

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 Mr. Thomas 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.

Nuclear power: consider these facts

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha’s Trojan strategy would have seen the melt down of resistance against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant; but consider these facts:

Kudamkulam nuclear power plant

udamkulam nuclear power plant while under construction. Source IAEA

Japan shut down its last reactor today (May 5, 2012). Host communities and provincial governors have a say in whether they should have nuclear plants.  17 of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors had been damaged in the earthquake and tsunami last year.  The leakage at the Fukushima reactors displaced roughly 100,000 people.

If a similar accident happens in Kudankulam, around 50 lakh people in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thiruvananthapuram district would be displaced.  The Nuclear Liability Bill would not even provide for their transportation costs.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is demanding all the power from Kudankulam for her State. If the Centre allows that, Kerala would be taking a risk without getting any power. The situation will be similar to that at Mullaperiyar.  It is high time that Kerala’s political leadership got sensitised about another Mullaperiyar in the making.

For further reading:

Washington post report
Nuclear Liability Bill will get you Rs. 1000


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

Endosufan controversy: truth is not easy to decipher

Whether there is any substance in the controversy over the letter written by Principal Secretary (Health) to the Community Medicine Department of Kozhikode Medical College asking, essentially, whether they are willing to make any amends to the report of their studies on endosulfan is not easy to determine.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has denied any wrong-doing by officials of the Health Department in their response to legal notice on endosulfan and that no minister had seen the file or the correspondence.  Even if a Minister has given a directive, the Health Secretary has seen to it that the letter is carefully worded after obtaining the advice of the Law Department.  The letter written by the Health Secretary is reproduced below.

The wordings like the use of ‘impediment’ may suggest a bias in favour of endosulfan manufacturers.  However, the net result of final decision communicated to Mr. Ganesan strengthens the legal case in favour of ban on endosulfan.  From the letter (reproduced below) read with earlier communication to the Department, it would appear that the government is upholding the results of the studies after due process and had shown no bias towards the Department.  It could be that the Principal Secretary Rajiv Sadanandan acted intelligently.

The only problem with the letter is that the date appears to have been over-written. Was it sent before the controversy broke out or after that?

Such doubts arise because the history of the UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy was not one of unblemished support to the victims of endosulfan. As pointed out in an earlier post, the Agriculture Secretary of the Government had signed the report of the Mayee Committee (conclusions are reproduced below) hardly a fortnight before  Mr. Chandy set out to tour the affected villages of Kasaragod district promise solace to the victims in 1984.

Recommendations of Mayee Committee