Decision comes after Kerala raises fears about safety

After Kerala raised apprehensions about the safety of the Mullaperiyar dam after recent mild tremors in the area, the Empowered Committee decided on Monday to send two technical members to inspect the dam before finalising its report.

The former Chief Justice of India, A.S. Anand, is heading the committee. Its members are Justice K.T. Thomas, a retired Supreme Court judge representing Kerala; Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, a retired Supreme Court Judge representing Tamil Nadu; C.D. Thatte, former Secretary to the Ministry of Water Resources; and D.K. Mehta retired Chief Engineer, Central Water Commission. The committee had conducted a spot inspection of the dam in December last.

At Monday's meeting, the committee considered the reports of the studies and investigations conducted by various agencies it constituted to go into the dam's safety. It also discussed the applications filed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu and took note of their submissions.

Kerala had urged the committee to review its order rejecting permission for producing additional evidence in respect of the safety, based on the reports of two experts — D.K. Paul and M.L. Sharma. On August 31, the committee rejected Kerala's application on the grounds that in 2009, the Supreme Court had not taken on record these reports. In its application, Kerala said the committee ought not to have relied on the Supreme Court's order as it was not barred from receiving evidence in respect of seismic threat to the dam, and the committee agreed to hear the State's arguments on this count.

Since Kerala filed an application for bringing on record the recent tremors and sought an oral hearing, the committee decided to send two of its members to conduct a spot inspection of the dam. It also accepted Kerala's plea for oral hearing and asked counsel for both the States to make submissions on January 2, 2012. On January 3, the committee will consider the modalities for finalising its report to the Supreme Court, as its term ends in February.

Kerala's demand rejected

Kerala's demand for copies of reports of various agencies was rejected as such a request had already been turned down.

In its latest application, Kerala said: “The fresh earthquakes in the vicinity of the Mullaperiyar dam have caused serious concern. During the months of July-November, about 25 earthquakes have been reported. Some of the earthquakes on July 26 and November 18 and 26 are more than magnitude 3 on the Richter Scale — the highest being magnitude 3.8 on July 26. The frequent earthquakes have caused panic among 50 lakh people in the downstream region of the Periyar dam. The fear is heightened by the incessant rain in the catchments of Mullaperiyar shooting the storage above 136 feet mandated by the provisions of the Amendment Act of 2006.”

“If the Mullaperiyar dam breaks due to flood or earthquake, a mass disaster would follow, wherein not only the life and property of 50 lakh people will be affected in Kerala, but lakhs of farmers of Tamil Nadu will also lose irrigation of about 2.5 lakh acres.” Hence, Tamil Nadu should agree for the construction of a new dam offered by Kerala as a precautionary measure.

The committee asked Tamil Nadu to respond to this application and adjourned the meeting to January 2.

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