The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kerala dam in troubled waters

New Delhi, Feb. 23: The Bhavani river appears to be rushing towards a controversy between neighbours Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Angry Tamil Nadu farmers, under an umbrella organisation called the Federation of Farmers Association of Tamil Nadu, have moved a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on Kerala’s construction of a checkdam on the river. The federation alleged in its petition that Kerala was building the dam at Mukkallai village to divert the river water for the use of a multinational cola giant’s bottling unit.

Bhavani, a tributary of Cauvery, has as chequered a history as that of the mother river which is at the centre of a raging row between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The Bhavani originates high in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu and flows into Kerala for about 25 km before flowing back to the neighbour state near Coimbatore. It merges with the Cauvery after flowing on for about 160 km.

In 1954, Tamil Nadu built the 32-tmc Bhavani Sagar dam. The river thus helps the state irrigate an estimated 2.5 lakh acres and supplies drinking water to seven municipalities, 52 town panchayats and over 300 villages.

Tamil Nadu also uses the Bhavani water to produce hydro-electricity. It benefits over 400 heavy industries, 2,000 medium and 20,000 small scale industries.

The farmers’ petition contended that Kerala had not obtained the Centre’s clearance to construct the dam at Mukkallai and Central agencies had not assessed the environmental impact. The construction was thus illegal, the petition said.

The farmers did not spare their own government either. Tamil Nadu, the petition said, had not taken up the issue with Kerala or the Centre in the manner it had pursued the Cauvery row.

The checkdam, once built, would inundate local villages and large stretches of forest, the petition said. The consequent diminished water supply would have a “cascading effect” on electricity generation and supply of irrigation and drinking water.

The farmers, urging the apex court to stay the construction of the checkdam, contended that the Kerala government was infringing on the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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