The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that Kerala’s offer of constructing a new Mullaperiyar dam, after decommissioning the existing one, could not be thrust on Tamil Nadu.

A five-judge Constitution Bench, allowing Tamil Nadu’s suit, said, “Any amicable resolution of the present dispute between the two States would have been really good for the people of these States but this has not been possible as the two have had sharp conflicts over the subject. Their stance has been rigid and inflexible.”

Writing the judgment, Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said, “The offer made by Kerala for construction of a new dam has been rejected by Tamil Nadu. It is important to bear in mind that Mullaperiyar dam has been found to be safe, first, by the Expert Committee, and, then, by this court in the 2006 judgment. There has been no agreement on the construction of the new dam. The offer made by Kerala cannot be thrust on Tamil Nadu.” The Bench, however, made it clear that it would be open to the two States to arrive at a settlement and seek the permission of the court for construction of a new dam.

The Bench said, “The rights of Tamil Nadu, crystallised in the 2006 judgment, cannot be nullified by legislation made by the Kerala State legislature. The earlier judgment operates as res judicata [issues decided cannot be adjudicated again] on the issue of the dam’s safety and raising the water level to 142 feet and ultimately to 152 feet after completion of further strengthening measures on the dam. The plea raised by Kerala relating to the lease deed of 1886 and structural safety of the dam have been finally decided by the 2006 judgment and Kerala is stopped from raising or re-agitating these issues in the present suit.” Making it clear that the Periyar river was an inter-State river, the Bench said, “Kerala cannot obstruct Tamil Nadu from increasing the water level of Mullaperiyar dam to 142 feet and from carrying out repair works. Kerala cannot be permitted to contend that the Periyar River is not an inter-State river.”

The Bench, however, said to allay Kerala’s apprehensions about the dam’s safety over restoration of the full reservoir level constituted a three-member Supervisory Committee. “The Committee shall have one representative from the Central Water Commission and one representative each from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The representative of the Central Water Commission shall be the Chairman of the panel. The Committee shall supervise the restoration of full reservoir level in the dam to the elevation of 142 feet.”

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