ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Historical Validity of Mullaperiyar Project

This historical analysis of the Periyar project questions the arguments and some of the contemporary claims made about the project's engineering and construction, and its environmental impact. Far from being an environmentally destructive project, this was a "pacifist" scheme when it was built. The article throws light on these issues by analysing historical documents.

Controversies surrounding the Periyar dam have acquired different dimensions over time. New claims have been made that the original conception of the project itself was an environmentally harmful idea. For Ramaswamy R Iyer, a proponent of such a theory, the dam appears to be a case of hubristic and maximalist engineering and a bad example,1 and he raises some basic questions about the planning and the need for the dam itself.2 These arguments resemble in many ways the theories advanced by historians3 studying north and east Indian floodplains. Without making any statements on these studies, this article examines the merits of similar arguments advanced by Iyer.

This article uses Periyar project documents, district manuals and gazetteers of the times, and engineering histories written by “engineers” on the project. It argues that whatever was done by the British in Vaigai and Periyar was an extension of the possibilities that existed in irrigation engineering at the time. These examples of engineering and planning cannot be solely ascribed to the European way of science and engineering.

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