Man who changed the course of a river

Chemban Kolumban, the Adivasi leader who discovered the site of the Idukki dam, is finally being remembered by the authorities with the renovation of the Kolumban Park, close to the Cheruthoni dam of the Idukki Hydroelectric project here.

Kolumban had identified the ideal spot for a dam when he found the Periyar river flowing between the Kuravan and the Kurathi hills.

In 1922, Kolumban had joined a team of the Malankara Estate superintendent and his friend on a hunting trip in Idukki. They found it difficult to move as they reached Kuyilimala. It was while moving between the two hills that they found the spot. They thought of diverting the water to the low range of Malankara-Moolamattom for power generation. In 1932, the then superintendent of the Malankara Estate, W.J. John, submitted a project to the Travancore government regarding the possibility of constricting a dam connecting the two hills.

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The Travancore government in 1947 entrusted Electrical engineer P. Joseph John with the task of conducting a feasibility study and a report was submitted to the Central Waterpower Commission which gave the nod for the construction of a dam in 1961. The construction was entrusted to a Canadian company in 1963 and it was commissioned by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on February 12, 1976.

A sculptor Kunnuvila Murali made a statue of Kolumban near the Cheruthoni dam then as a tribute to him. For long, it was a forgotten chapter in the history of the dam with weeds growing over the statue.

The park was renovated as part of a major project taken up by the Department of Culture to renovate the Kolumban memorial on the roadside near here, where his body was cremated.

His grandchildren are living at the Kolumban colony and are the carriers of a rich legacy. According to Roshy Augustine, MLA, visitors to the dam would be interested in the history of the dam, of which Kolumban is an integral part.