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Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| November 18, 2014| 11.20 pm IST It all began during the end of 2011. Sample these headlines on popular Malayalam news channels. November 28, 2011- “Earthquake, fissures, now what?” – Asianet News December 10, 2011- “Cracks on Mullaperiyar dam, Dam is in a precarious situation” – Kairali TV Exclusive These headlines were just the beginning. Media in Kerala went ballistic with claims that the Mullaperiyar dam located in river Periyar in the state had several cracks. News channels endlessly warned of a doomsday. Panic spread across the state. People across Kerala were glued to TV sets for updates about the dam’s condition. They feared that a breach in the dam would flood four districts of the state. Mullaperiyar dam has a unique and complicated history. Though it is located in Kerala, it is controlled and operated by Tamil Nadu. In 2011, many minor earthquakes hit the region near the dam, and this was the spur for Mullaperiyar to hit headlines. Now, throw in a bye-election in the constituency where the dam lies. Not surprisingly, Mullaperiyar dam became the biggest headline. Reports in Kerala openly castigated the Tamil Nadu government, calling them arrogant and callous about lives in Kerala. Protests broke out in the dam’s vicinity, and soon spread to the Kerala-Tamil Nadu state borders. By then, media in Tamil Nadu started  'counter-reportage' explaining how Kerala was slighting the law and was being unsympathetic towards people in Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramnad districts who use water from the dam for irrigation and drinking purposes. The national media too jumped into the fray. Soon national headlines blared: ‘Kerala-Tamil Nadu water row turns into war’. But in all this cacophony, the Kerala media needs to be singled out for their 24*7 mindless coverage that spread absolute panic. Protests turned violent, Kerala factories were burnt in Tamil Nadu, and roads connecting both states were blocked for a long time. Political, social and economic ties between both states was also affected. Newspapers that had editions in both states also played a clever commercial game. While the Kerala editions batted for a new dam, the Tamil Nadu edition demanded status quo. Headlines were biased, reportage was titled heavily to one side and politicians from both sides wrote editorials promoting their own political interests. After almost two months of incessant coverage, the Malayalam media moved on to other stories. Three years later, the dam still stands, but the issues remain. In May 2014, the Supreme Court allowed Tamil Nadu to raise the height of the dam. Six months later, the cycle of panic is starting again. The water level in the reservoir reached 141.2 feet in the last few days, and Kerala government has moved the Supreme Court once again. This time, the media seems to be exercising some restraint from non-stop coverage. However, the lack of other ‘big’ stories from Kerala is once again making Mullaperiyar centrestage. Politicians too are trying to whip up the frenzy. CPI M Mla Biju Mol lead a team of reporters to the dam on Monday, allegedly threatened Tamil Nadu engineers and took pictures of cracks. Tamil Nadu has lodged a serious protest against her reported high-handedness. Hopefully, other headlines soon take over. Disclaimer: The author was a TV journalist who has covered the Mullaperiyar issue from both sides of the border.

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