Dam 999 angers Tamil Nadu politicians

Feature film intensifies row over Mullaperiyar dam

By M Suchitra
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Dam 999, an international feature film released today in India, is in trouble due to the ongoing battle between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. Just one day before the release of the film, the Tamil Nadu government banned its screening, saying it might cause law and order problems. The film, directed by Sohan Roy, a gulf-based business entrepreneur from Kerala, stars Indian and foreign actors.

“The title of the film candidly refers to the Mullaperiyar dam row. Since it is capable of creating panic among people over the collapse of the dam and divide the people of the two states, chief minister J Jayalalitha has directed banning the screening of the movie,” said a statement released by the Tamil Nadu chief secretary Debendranath Sarangi. The main opposition party in the state, Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) had petitioned the prime minister for a nation-wide ban on the film. The theatre owners in Tamil Nadu, too, have decided not to screen the film.

Inter-state dispute

The Mullaperiyar dam, constructed in 1895 and located in the Iddukki district of Kerala, is under the control of the Tamil Nadu government and meets the irrigation needs of farmers in its southern districts, bordering Kerala. While Kerala had proposed construction of a new dam to replace the old structure, stating it posed a serious danger to people living downstream, Tamil Nadu has been opposing the move arguing that the dam was safe. The two states have been also fighting over the water level that to be maintained in the dam reservoir. Kerala demands lowering of the water level from the current 136 feet (41.45 metre) to 120 feet (36.57 m), while Tamil Nadu wants to raise the level to 142 feet (43.28 m).

The Mullaperiyar dam lease agreement was signed in 1886 between the Dewan of Travancore and the state secretary of the Madras Presidency for a period of 999 years—the Tamil Nadu government feels the title (Dam 999) refers to this agreement.

But  the director says the film has nothing to do with Mullaperiyar or any other dam in India. In a press statement, he said the story was based on a real incident: the collapse of  Banquiao dam in China in 1975, in which 250,000 people were killed.

The official website of Dam 999 says the film is a tribute to those who lost their lives in that disaster. Thirty years after the disaster,  People’s Daily Online, the  website of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, in October 2005, released the exact number of those killed and affected. It stated more than one million people were affected in the disaster. The cause of the disaster, the website said, was heavy rains of 106 cm in a single day following a typhoon. Banquiao dam collapsed first and then 61 other dams one after another.

Kerala to take up safety of real dam

The director says Dam 999 is not the kind of a film that would hurt the sentiments of Tamil Nadu. “ I assure that my film doesn’t have any shot or dialogue that would create a bad impression about the land or its people,” he said in the statement. He said that he was willing to hold a special preview of the movie for Tamil Nadu politicians and assured that any objectionable shot or dialogue, if found, would be removed. He also points out that the ban was illegal since there is a Supreme Court ruling against banning of a film after it had been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification.

As far as the Kerala government is concerned, it has no objection to screening the film. But the state has decided to take up the safety issue of the real dam with the Centre. There is panic among the people regarding the safety of the dam after mild tremors, measuring between 2.9 and 3.4 on the Richter scale, shook Idukki and some parts of Kottayam district on November 19. It was the 22nd tremor in Idukki in the past eight months.

The dam falls in quake-prone zone. A recent report, submitted to the Kerala government by a team of experts from IIT Roorkee, says the dam cannot withstand a quake of more than 6.4 on the Richter scale.

The state government has called an all-party meeting to discuss the dam's safety on November 23 and has decided to bring the matter to the Supreme Court's notice. Kerala govt has also decided to appeal to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government to reduce the water level in the dam's reservoir.

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