‘Serious lapse’: Kerala revokes permit to Tamil Nadu to fell trees near Mullaperiyar dam

The Kerala government on Sunday withdrew its decision granting permission to Tamil Nadu for felling 15 trees downstream the Baby Dam at Mullaperiyar reservoir as part of efforts to strengthen the structure, saying it was a “serious lapse” and that action will be taken against the officials who had sanctioned the move.

The revocation of the permit, granted by the state’s forest department to the Tamil Nadu Water Resources Department last week, came in the wake of criticism that the move will weaken Kerala’s demand for a new dam in lieu of the existing 126-year-old structure. Both the states are at loggerheads over the stability of the structure, with Kerala demanding that a new dam must be constructed and Tamil Nadu saying that a new structure is not needed.

Critics in Kerala also fear that by strengthening the structure of the Baby Dam downstream, Tamil Nadu will increase the storage level at Mullaperiyar reservoir to 152 feet from the existing level of 142 feet. Kerala has been against increasing water levels at the dam, citing structural stability.

The Mullaperiyar dam, located in Kerala’s Idukki district, is managed by the Tamil Nadu government.

Kerala Forest Minister A K Saseendran on Sunday said the move was a “ serious lapse” and officials did not consult involved ministers before making the decision on such a crucial matter.

“Neither the Chief Minister nor the forest minister was aware of such a permission. The water resources minister was also not familiar with such a permission. It is a serious lapse on the part of officials that they did not consult the ministers before granting permission to a matter related to sensitive Mullaperiyar dam. I have sought action against the officials. No official is above the government,” Saseendran said.

“It’s an unusual order. We will conduct a probe into the issuance of such an order and take necessary action,” he added.

The controversial order was issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden Bennichen Thomas following a high-level meeting convened by the top officials of the Water Resources Department on November 1.

It came to light on Saturday when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, expressing gratitude for allowing the felling of trees. “This long pending request was crucial to strengthen the baby dam and the earthen dam, and this permission would enable us to initiate steps for strengthening these structures,’’ a statement quoted Stalin as saying in the letter.

Last week, a delegation of Tamil Nadu ministers had visited the Baby Dam and raised the demand for permission to cut down the trees. Previously, Tamil Nadu had also raised the issue before the Supreme Court, which is hearing the inter-state dispute over the dam.

Opposition parties on Sunday criticised the CPI(M), and said the state government led by Pinarayi Vijayan was undermining the interests of Kerala.

Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala alleged that permission was granted with the knowledge of the Chief Minister, and that the lapse cannot be foisted upon other officials. BJP state unit chief K Surendran took a similar stand. “The CM and Saseendran are fooling the people of the state. They knew about the order,” Surendran said.

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