Legislation enacted by Kerala to form dam safety authority struck down
In a judgement that holds huge ramifications for the two southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on May 7 allowed Tamil Nadu to raise the water level in the controversial Mullaperiyar dam to 142 feet (43.28 m). The court quashed the Kerala Irrigation Water Conservation Act 2006 that restricted raising the water level in the dam above 136 feet (41.45 m) on safety grounds.
The 120 year old Mullaperiyar dam over the river Periyar is located in Kerala's Idukki district but under an old agreement made during the British period, Tamil Nadu has been diverting water from the dam.
The dam has been a bone of contention ever since some cracks appeared on it in 1970s. While Tamil Nadu wanted to raise the water storage level from the present 136 feet to 142 feet to cater to the needs of the farmers in five districts, Kerala opposed the move on safety grounds. Kerala has been demanding dismantling of the old dam and constructing a new one.
More on Mullaperiyar dam
A 2006 Supreme Court ruling had allowed Tamil Nadu to raise the water level to 142 feet. However, to override this court direction, Kerala enacted a legislation declaring the dam was weak and posed threat to lives of those living downstream. Under the legislation, it formed a Dam Safety Authority to prevent Tamil Nadu from raising the water level. Tamil Nadu approached the apex court against this legislation.
While delivering the verdict, the apex court observed that by enacting the law and fixing the storage height of the dam at 136 ft, Kerala had nullified the 2006 judgement and usurped judicial power and thus interfered with the judicial functioning.
In December 2011, a two-member technical team of the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee had visited the site and concluded that the dam was safe.
The bench appointed a three-member committee with chairman of the Central Water Commission as the chairperson and representatives from the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to supervise and ensure that the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam was raised up to 142 ft.
To allay the fears of Kerala, the court has directed the committee to make periodic inspection of the dam, before the monsoon and during the monsoon and take all steps necessary for the safety of the dam.
While Tamil Nadu has welcomed the Supreme Court verdict, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said it was unfortunate that the apex court did not consider safety of the people in the state while striking down the legislation passed by the state. "The court, it seems, did not look into the safety of the people living near the old dam. The state cabinet will now meet to decide what needs to be done on this," he told the media in Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala Water Resources Minister P J Joseph told media that the government would explore possibilities for filing a review petition in the Supreme Court.
The Mullaperiyar Action Council in Kerala, which has been leading protests against raising the height of the dam, has called a dawn-to-dusk shut down in the state on May 8.
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