The Kerala government on Sunday withdrew its order permitting Tamil Nadu to cut 15 trees in the downstream area of the Mullaperiyar dam in an effort to make the structure stronger, reported The Indian Express.
The Pinarayi Vijayan-led administration said the order was a “serious lapse” and that action would be taken against its officials who had approved it. The 126-year-old dam is managed by the Tamil Nadu government.
The two states have been caught in a dispute, as Kerala has called for a new one to be constructed citing structural problems with the Mullaperiyar dam. Kerala has proposed that the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam should be reduced to 138 feet.
Tamil Nadu, however, wants the levels to be raised to 152 feet, claiming that the Mullaperiyar dam would be able to take on the additional pressure.
The revelation of the Kerala government’s permission to Tamil Nadu came after Chief Minister MK Stalin on Saturday thanked Vijayan for the go-ahead, reported the Hindustan Times. The letter sparked a row in Kerala as the Opposition alleged that Vijayan’s office gave approval without consulting the ministries.
But Kerala Forest Minister AK Saseendran on Sunday said the order had been revoked, adding: “I have no idea who gave the order. It never came up for discussion. Officials who were behind such a move will have to be answerable.”
Water Resources Minister Roshy Augustine also said that he was not aware of the permission given to Tamil Nadu.
Meanwhile, official documents released in public revealed that top Kerala government officials and authorities in the state forest department knew about the order that was issued by Chief Wildlife Warden Bennichan Thomas, reported Onmanorama.
However, this decision was reportedly taken on May 1 during a high-level meeting with Water Resources Department Additional Chief Secretary TK Jose. The order granting permission was handed over to Jose on May 5, according to Onmanorama.
This was reportedly done without informing Vijayan, Forest Minister AK Saseendran and Water Resources Minister Roshy Augustine.
The Opposition criticised the Vijayan-led Kerala government, with Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala alleging that the chief minister and Saseendran were aware of the order. He claimed that the two politicians “are fooling the people of the state”, reported The Indian Express.
Revolutionary Socialist Party leader and former Water Resources Minister NK Premachandran MP sought Vijayan’s clarification on increasing the dam’s capacity.
“The chief minister should clarify his position on Tamil Nadu’s decision to raise the water level to 152 feet,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times. “He [Vijayan] said in the Assembly recently that Tamil Nadu has shown a favourable approach to Kerala’s growing concern. But this is not a favourable move.”