Dead warning system at Mullaperiyar dam adds to worries amid rains

Mullaperiyar dam
Mullaperiyar dam
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Idukki: A warning system installed at the Mullaperiyar Dam by the disaster management authority now lies defunct, posing serious threat to life and property as heavy rain continues to lash the state.

With IMD predicting heavy rain will persist for yet another week, the lack of timely alert adds to worries. The dam, which currently holds 13.1 metres of water, is likely to reach its capacity of 142 m if the rain continues as it did in its catchment areas in Idukki district recently.

The early-warning system connects the Idukki District Collector's office with various taluk offices to issue an alert when the water level reaches 136 m. Installed in 2012, this substandard equipment has only worked for a day. It has been years now, and neither the State nor the Centre has paid it much heed despite last year's floods.

Another plan to have light bulbs installed along roads on Periyar's banks lies unfinished since 2012.

Last year the Kerala government had sought the help of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to monitor rainfall in the dam's catchment areas. The government had handed over Rs 1.5 crore to the agency in an effort to also do away with methods that were deemed inadequate in recording rainfall intensity and the expected inflow into the reservoir.

The erratic mobile network in the region prevents the use of GPS and SIM-enabled technologies.

Easy execution of plans is hindered as the Kerala government is not in charge of the reservoir. The ownership of the 155ft tall Mullaperiyar dam, built on the Periyar River in Thekkady, is contested by both Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments.

Since 2014, a Supreme Court-appointed panel which includes the Chief Engineer in-charge of Dam Safety at the Central Water Commission and the Water Resources secretaries of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is overseeing the operation of the dam. Though an office was opened for official-level coordination, it is only rarely used. The panel members meet just once in a year. A lot of the directives by the apex court has not been implemented as yet.

In light of the recent floods and the devastating toll of life, it took, several leaders, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have stressed on the need to have functioning early-warning systems in place, especially disaster-prone areas like Wayanad.

"Developing a long-term strategy and an action plan supported through a special package of assistance to protect both the life and livelihood of people and the environment in Wayanad to be taken up on priority," Gandhi had wrote.

Gandhi had said Wayanad has some of the most fragile parts of the Western Ghats and is home to 10 per cent of the biodiversity of the country.

"Many lives can be saved if early-warning systems are installed to alert populations in vulnerable areas and specially designed landslide/flood shelters with communication facilities are provided in such places," he said.

The areas in the catchment areas of Mullaperiyar Dam too fall in the Western Ghat zone and are as fragile ecologically as Wayanad.

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