This is a project involving the eastward diversion of the
waters of a west-flowing river, which has been celebrated as a gigantic feat
of 19th century engineering. It was a major intervention in nature of a kind
that is no longer much in favour. The project was constructed and Periyar
waters have been flowing to Tamil Nadu for over a hundred years.
Under the 1886 agreement between the former Madras Presidency
and the princely State of Travancore, Travancore agreed to the diversion of
Periyar waters to Madras Presidency, and to lease a piece of land (8000 acres)
in its territory to Madras Presidency for building and operating the project
designed for this purpose. The curious fact is that the lease was for 999 years.
In Kerala, there is an almost universal feeling (right or
wrong) that the 1886 agreement was an unfair one imposed on a reluctant
Travancore by a more powerful Madras Presidency with the prestige and power of
the British government behind it; and that while Madras (now Tamil Nadu)
benefited substantially from the agreement, Travancore (Kerala) got little more
than a negligible lease-rent for the land leased to Madras. In 1970, an increase
in the lease rent was negotiated by Kerala but there was no radical revision of
the totality of the agreement.
The learned judges decided to deal with the matter
themselves, and appointed an Empowered Committee to examine and report on it.
The Empowered Committee includes eminent experts but their opinion, even if the
Supreme Court accepts it, may not necessarily be the final word on the subject,
particularly if a different opinion is given by other equally distinguished
The dam in this case is 116 years old, and even with all the
strengthening measures, one can hardly be wholly confident about its safety
under all circumstances. The recent tremors in the area might have been minor
but no one can guarantee that a stronger earthquake will not occur, or that if
it does the dam will withstand it; or that if there is an exceptionally heavy
flood the dam will be safe.