Kerala and Tamil Nadu are at loggerheads over a dam built in 1886 under an agreement between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the British. The bone of contention between the two state governments today, is the dam’s reservoir level of 46.3 meters. After a series of tremors in 2010 in Idukki, the district where the dam is located, rumour mills have been working overtime and have hyped matters to hysteric levels.
On the other hand, the Tamil Nadu government has dismissed the entire positioning as hype bordering on the ridiculous. They say that lowering the water levels can cause severe scarcity of irrigation water that the Mullaperiyar canals have been supplying the state for well over a century.
In view of the hardening stance on both the sides, there is an urgent need to calm the frayed nerves through effective communication. Here are some tips that the government can use to diffuse the situation immediately:
1. Involving Panchayats in the Affected Areas
Involve the Panchayats to educate the people on both sides about the actual situation so that they do not get carried away by rumours spread by frenzied groups and those with vested interests. The Panchayats in the affected areas can play a critical role in lowering or heightening tensions in the area.
2. Inform Local Population about Disaster Management Measures
Take the people into confidence about the arrangements made for dealing with any eventuality. Explain the disaster management measures put in place if the worst fears come true. In any case, effective disaster management efforts must involve the local population.
3. Reassure Local People about the Progress of Safety Measures
Make sure that people are aware of the safety measures the government is undertaking on a continuing basis. As mentioned earlier, the best way to do it is by involving the Panchayats who can mobilize the local population in the efforts.
Hold meetings and open sessions with the villagers directly, in the affected area. It is very important to understand and address their concerns more intently and the best way to do that is to involve them positively. The local folks must be made to feel that they have a proportionate leverage on the disaster management process that is being initiated.
5. Educate and Engage the Student Community
One of the most important local groups to interact with is the student community in both the affected areas and beyond. Take students and teachers into confidence and place the facts before them through lectures and seminars. They can bridge the communication gap between the local population and the authorities and other stake holders.
6. Use Posters to Convey Vital Messages in the Affected Areas
Posters are a highly effective way of conveying messages in rural areas. Therefore, spread messages far and wide through posters, about the safety steps that are being taken by people if disaster ever happens. The posters can also highlight the government’s initiative to involve the local people in disaster management through the local Panchayats.
7. Involve Eminent Personalities to be the Cause Champions
Bring in influential and respected members of the public and the society to sway public opinion and assuage the fears caused by rumour mongers. They can be asked to explain and assure the local people about the pros and cons of the situation and how effective cooperation of the local folks can help bring matters under control.
It is quite natural for the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments and the populace of the states to stick to their proclaimed position. There are many political and regional compulsions that come into play. However, the need of the hour is to make sure that the issue does not lead to an unpleasant situation where people lose life and property not because of the dam but because of petty politics that this issue seems to generating.