New Delhi: The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin surprised many when he announced his plans on January 15, to install a statue of British engineer Col John Pennycuick. Interestingly his statue will be installed not in any Indian state but in his native town of Camberley in England. While not many know about him in the north, Col John Pennycuick is quite famous down south as many still name their children after him. According to the Tamil Nadu government’s announcement, the Tamilian diaspora in Camberley has already obtained permission from St Peter’s Church in the UK for installing his statue.
Who was Col John Pennycuick?
Colonel John Pennycuick was a British engineer who worked as the chief engineer of the Mullaperiyar dam while stationed in Tamil Nadu in 1895.
According to historians, John Pennycuick was born in Pune, Maharashtra on January 15, 1841 to Brigadier-General John Pennycuick and his wife Sarah.
He got his education from Cheltenham College in England and later entered the East India Company Military College at Addiscombe, Surrey, in 1857 and made his return to India in 1860.
Between 1860 to 1876, he worked as a lieutenant, Second Captain and Major while working with the Madras Engineers group.
The queen nominated him a Companion of the Order of the Star of India in 1895.
In his six years of working with the public works department till 1896, Pennycuick worked as a chief engineer for the Mullaperiyar dam.
Col John Pennycuick’s Contribution
The century-old dam is located in the Idukki district of Kerala and is currently owned and run by the Tamil Nadu government. Col John Pennycuick is revered in Tamil Nadu as the builder of Mullaperiyar dam, constructed in 1895, that helped five water-starved districts of Tamil Nadu.
Pennycuick diverted waters the west-flowing Idukki river to the east despite the hindrances of unfavorable weather and relentless rains during the construction of the dam.
Later when the British government was unable to bear the cost of the dam construction, Pennycuick went back to London and sold his ancestral properties to fund the completion of the dam.
Since 1895, the dam has been catering to the irrigation and drinking water requirements of the people in the districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, and Ramanathapuram. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister paid homage to the late British engineer in his address on Jan 15, which also marked Col John Pennycuick’s 181st birthday.
According to the Tamil Nadu government, the Mullaperiyar dam at present irritates 2,19,840.81 acres of land.
Stalin is not the first to pay tribute to the late British officer and engineer. In 2000, former chief minister M Karunanidhi unveiled his statue at the PWD complex in Tallakulam in Madurai. A memorial too was built at Lowercamp in the Theni district and the bus terminus in Theni is named after Pennycuick.
CM Stalin plans to extend his gratitude to the late British engineer for his contribution to the people, by installing a statue in Pennycuick’s hometown in Britain.
He added that his government is taking legal steps to increase the water level to 152 feet, to reach its full capacity and said that the state would never give up its right over the Mullaiperiyar dam.
The dam continues to be a major flashpoint between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as the latter contends the 126-year-old dam’s rejuvenation is dangerous and may cause catastrophic floods in the downstream areas.