The rising water level at the Idukki dam has been a constant subject of discussion in the media, with the government giving regular updates and preparing to ensure that a disaster is averted. But, what do the people living along the swelling Periyar river feel?
A notice issued by the Idukki Tahsildar on Monday to the families in four panchayats has cautioned them that the Idukki dam may be opened after 26 years. This means that the residents may have to shift to safer places. While some are in a state of panic, others are strangely calm, hoping for the best.
Lalitha, who lives in a small house at Kuthirakkallu, which was built under a panchayat scheme, says, "What's there to panic? It's like any other tough situation in life. They haven't decided on opening the shutters yet. The government has told us that relief camps will be opened. We will wait."
From Lalitha's house, one can see the Periyar flowing in full spate. If the shutters are opened, the water will surely surge into her house. But Lalitha remains stoic.
"Yes, this is where the water will rise, but we have no fear. We have been living here for years and didn't move anywhere when the shutters were opened in 1992. Also, it's going to affect everyone here. How can we alone shift to a safer place? I have two dogs at home, we won't go anywhere without them," she adds.
Lalitha lives with her husband and two children.
On the other hand, Chinnamma, who lives in Vellakkayam in Thankamani, is afraid each time she watches the news or reads about the opening of the shutters.
"It has been raining for a month. There was some relief on Wednesday. We will be in trouble if the shutters are opened. I'm praying that this will not happen. The authorities issued us a notice and told us to be cautious in case the shutters are opened. If they open the shutters, we will go to the convent nearby and stay there. We have never had to leave our home since 1992," she says.
Already, Chinnamma's son, who lives nearby, has shifted the furniture and household appliances in his house to the first floor as a precaution. But Chinnamma is yet to make any such move.
"My son has prepared himself, but I haven't done anything yet," she shares. "Relatives living in Kottayam have been calling us, but we decided not to go. At least, not yet."
Ummer and his wife Nafeesa of Idukki Kavala, a border area of Mariapuram and Vazhathoppu panchayats, are an elderly couple. However, they are calm about the situation.
"We have been informed about everything that is happening around us. We have been watching the news. But where should we go? If the dam is opened, not only one, all families will be affected, right?" Nafeesa says, with a philosophical air.
Besides, this couple has already seen times when the dam was opened - once in 1981 and then in 1992.
"We are not afraid at all. We are used to all this - the incessant rains, the discussions on whether the shutters will be opened. When the shutters were opened in 1981, we saw lots of fish flowing along with the water," Nafeesa recalls.
Reethamma Thomas, who lives in Thadiyambad, Chappath, near Kuthirakkallu, echoes Nafeesa's view.
â€œI have seen water flowing everywhere, sitting in my house in 1981 and 1992. At that time, when the shutters were opened, the water flowed without any hindrance as there was no farming in these areas. Over the years, when the shutters remained closed, people began to cultivate coconut or plantain in these areas," the 74-year-old explains.
Will the shutters be opened?
The big question, as of now, is whether the shutters will be opened. This concerns not only the people of Idukki but the entire state. However, a fast decision on the matter is not possible.
On Thursday, Minister of Power, MM Mani, will be in Idukki and it has been unofficially confirmed that a meeting with higher officials will be held.
"The priority is to address the concerns of the people," an officer said.
Speaking to TNM, Sekhar Kuriakose, Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) secretary, says, "It's not possible for anyone to take a decision now. It's only possible to take action, depending on the emerging situation. It has to be a dynamic process."
He further adds, "The concern for Disaster Management is to see if the orange alert will be lowered, whether it will be raised to red alert. Since it hasn't been lowered, we will stay prepared. We will mobilise all that we can. We are on alert. For us, it all depends on the threshold that is set."
At the time of writing this article, the water level of the reservoir was 2395.96 feet. Since rainfall was moderate on Wednesday, the inflow to the dam was less. In the last 24 hours, the inflow has been 19.138 Million Units. On Monday, it was 21.753. The decision, as of now, is to open the shutters on a trial run if the water level reaches 2397 feet. The red alert will be issued when the water level reaches 2399 feet.
How many families will be affected ?
If the shutters are opened, the impact will be felt by 1104 people and 200 buildings.
These are people living in Vathikudi, Mariapuram, Vazhathoppu and Konnathadi Panchayats under Idukki Taluk. As of now, no relief camps have been opened. As per the information doing the rounds, even if a decision to open the shutters is taken, only four camps will be needed to house the 218 people, who will be the most affected, out of the 1104.
High Level Meeting
On Wednesday, the situation was assessed at a high level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The maximum capacity of the reservoir is 2403 feet of water. The meeting reviewed the necessary precautions to be taken if the shutters are opened.
At the meeting, it was decided that an immediate survey on how many families will be affected if the shutters are opened, is to be conducted. Further, it was decided that factors like hurdles in the streams in which the water will flow should be assessed. The survey is to be conducted jointly by the Revenue and Water Resources Departments and the Kerala State Electricity Board.
Using micro satellite images, the KSDMA has prepared a detailed assessment of the buildings within the 100 metre radius of both sides of the Periyar river. The Chief Minister has directed the District Collectors of Idukki and Ernakulam to make necessary preparations. Idukki has received 192.3 cms rain during the monsoon season.
Meanwhile, the safety measures in and around the dam have been strengthened. People have been flocking to the area to view the dam, ever since news broke that the shutters may be opened.