Dams of Tamilnadu
Op-ed

Dravidian period : Unrevealed Reality of Water Management in Tamil Nadu

We, the youth, often come across people blaming the Dravidian Chief Ministers M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa for water management strategies and implementations, and also because of the severe water crisis faced by the public at present. Here, let’s discuss the reality and factual details behind water management in Tamil Nadu during the period of Dravidian parties rule. 

Dams of Tamilnadu

Currently, there are 116 dams and reservoirs in Tamil Nadu. We can classify existing irrigation projects and reservoirs throughout the history in four major time periods. They are:

  1. Era of the Monarch
  2. The British Era
  3. The Congress Era 
  4. The Dravidian Era

1.Era of the Monarch

During the period of monarchic rule, in the times of King’s rule several lakes and water storage structures were built, including some major old dams like Veeranam that were built during the Chola period and the Chembarambakkam built during the Pallava period. One of the oldest water conservation system is Aeri (tank), which is used throughout our country. These public tanks were a major source of water for agriculture as well as other chores.

2.The British Era

During the British period (till 1947) four dams were built. They are Mettur dam, Pechiparai dam, Mullaperiyar dam and Wellington dam; and three reservoirs, namely Cholavaram, Poondi and Red hills were built. Today, a major part of water required for agriculture as well as our daily needs come from these dams. As time passed by, due to our ignorance and our incessant need for progress, we failed to notice one of the fundamental aspects required for our existence: water. As a result, buildings were constructed on several Aeris (tanks) and along river beds and lakes. The water that we obtained from several sources now comes from a single source, that is dams. 

3.The Congress Era

The Congress government ruled Tamil Nadu from 1950 to 1967 with various Chief Ministers, including K. Kamaraj, M. Bakthavatsalam, C. Raja Gopalachari and P.S. Kumaraswamy Raja. During Kamaraj’s period, around 15 water management projects were started, which includes reservoirs in  Sathanur, Krishnagiri, Vidur, Gomukhi Nadhi, Perunchani, Manimuthar, Sathiyar. 

Water management and dam construction under Dravidian party rule in tamilnadu
Manimuthar Reservoir by Kamarajar

4.The Dravidian Era

Among the Dravidian rulers, M. Karunanidhi initiated many dam and reservoir projects. Even though Karunanidhi contributed to more dam projects, the succeeding rulers M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa followed his trail and fulfilled his projects during their period.

During MGR’s period (1977-88), about 17 reservoirs projects were built, which includes Palar porandar (1978), Vattamalai karai odai (1978), Varadhamanadhi (1978), Siddhamalli (1987), Uppar (1986), Karuphanadhi (1977), Marudhanadhi (1979), Gundar (1983), Kullur Sandhai (1984), Vembakottai (1985), Pambar (1983), Thubarahalli (1983), Vaniar (1985), Kesargulihala (1985), Shoolagirichinnar (1986), Thoppaiyar (1986), Nagavathy (1986).

During J. Jayalalithaa’s period (1991-96, 2002-06, 2011-16), about 10 reservoirs were built viz., Kelavarapalli (1993), Golwarpatti (1992), Kodaganur (1993), Kariakoil (1993), Anaikottam (1993), Advil Nainarkoil (2003), Kodumaiyar (2003), Shanmuganathi (2004), Nagariar Sastha Kovil (2004), Mirugandanadhi (2005). 

Karunanidhi was in power for 18 years and in his period about 26 dams were built. They are Manimukthanadhi (1970), Chinnar (1976), Manjalar (1967), Chittar I (1972), Chittar II (1972), Gatana (1974), Ramanadhi (1974), Pillavukkal Periyar (1976), Pillavukkal Kovilur (1976), Ponnaiyar (1974), Anaikuttam (1989), Perumpallam (1990), Kuthiraiyur (1996), Noyyal aathupalam (1991), Parambikulam (1967), Peruvaripallam (1971), Thirumoorthy (1967), Sholaiyar (1971), Nanganjiar (2007), Nallathangal odai (2007), Shenbagathope (2007), Varattarvallimadurai (2007) and Andiappanur odai (2007).

Except these dams, more than 200 check dams were built and renovated during the DMK period. Surprisingly, ADMK also followed and continued the projects which were started by DMK government. Due to severe pressure given by these legislators, the water level in Mullaperiyar was raised to 142 feet

Integration of many channel projects were done during the ADMK period namely, Mettur Kaveri-Sarabanga-Thirumanimuthar joint channel; Sathanur-Pennar-Seyyar joint channel; Pennaiyar-Nedungal-Palar joint channel; Kaveri-Agniyar-South Vellar-Manimuthar-Vaigai-Gundar joint channel.

Tamil Nadu is one of the leading states in India in overall economic growth. Even if we don’t cherish our rulers, we must at least not blame their efforts. Let’s criticize in a healthy manner for the upliftment of our state.

The compilation and computerization of Water resource database

The compilation and computerization of Water resource database of the data regarding river resources, groundwater resources, area wise average rainfall, etc were compiled and computerized during the DMK period. It was an important job undertaken by them. Today, if we are able to provide the statistical data related to any water related issue, it’s because of DMK who seeded the project. 

Water harvesting – Pioneer in India 

The rainwater harvesting movement initiated by J. Jayalalitha in 2001 was made mandatory in 2003. According to the data available, out of 23,92,457 buildings in Town Panchayats, 22,94,342 buildings are equipped with rainwater harvesting tanks. The government took elaborate measures to explain the various methods employed and types of tanks that may be built to conserve rainwater. Though the government has taken several steps in this regard, once again due to the ignorance and slackness of people, we face a major water crisis this year. This is said to be one of the worst water crises.

Water management and dam construction under Dravidian party rule in tamilnadu
Rain Water harvesting awareness poster displayed in Tamil Nadu

Several harvesting tanks are not maintained properly, which renders the whole water harvesting system invalid. As much as it is important the government takes steps to ensure that we implement proper water harvesting systems, it is vital that we, the public, understand the importance and necessity of us following them. The climate change crisis is only going to worsen and all we can do is make sure that we are doing all that is possible in a proper way.

Setbacks of Dravidian model of water management 

Lack of environmental view was one of the major drawbacks for in all the Dravidian leaders. Hereafter, the people in power should plan every project in an environmentally friendly manner. Scams during the construction of dams, renovation of reservoirs and restoration of lakes are bitter incidents that happened and are still happening in Tamil Nadu and it was mostly because of the people in the second and third level of power. Also, illegal sand theft from the riverbeds are to be controlled in upcoming days. 

Tamil Nadu is currently receiving about 800 mm of rainfall on average, which is less than India’s average rainfall (1100 mm). With this limited rainfall and water resources, we are one of the leading industrial power, which ultimately leads to higher GDP.

Tamil Nadu is one of the leading states in India in overall economic growth. Even if we don’t cherish our rulers, we must at least not blame their efforts. Let’s criticize in a healthy manner for the upliftment of our state. Even if it is the government’s duty to maintain the water bodies and build new water reservation bodies, we, the citizens of India are responsible to maintain them. Instead of blaming the people in power and making snide remarks, let’s make sure that we are doing all that is possible to save as much water as possible. We entirely depend on waters from dams, which has caused several political rifts and misunderstandings. Water is playing the central role in our politics. All the water that comes from these dams and several others are not completely utilized, and much of the water flows into the sea. This has become a key concern for several people. We think that the water that flows into the sea is being ‘wasted’. But no, it is not being wasted. Instead this water that flows back into the sea is very important to maintain the ecological balance. This water is needed in order for the marine animals to thrive and for maintaining the amount of salt in the sea. 

All the water that comes from these dams and several others are not completely utilized, and much of the water flows into the sea.

As descendents of one of the leading civilizations in the world, we have more responsibility in following our ancestors footpath as well as paving an sustainable path for our future generations.

-GK Dinesh and Azeefa Fathima 

(writergkdinesh@gmail.com; azeefafathima@yahoo.com)


Further readings:

1.Therkil Irunthu oru sooriyan, Thamizh Thisai, The Hindu Publications.

2.Tamil Nadu Water resources board www.tnwrd.gov.in