The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Mullaperiyar dam case has comprehensively settled the inter-State row, which has been bothering Tamil Nadu and Kerala for over 30 years, according to senior water experts.
As the court granted the primary relief sought by Tamil Nadu, of declaring the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006, unconstitutional, it has also examined dam safety, raising of the water level beyond 136 feet, strengthening works and validity of the 1886 Lease Agreement and that of the two supplemental agreements signed in 1970.
In all these issues, the court’s findings have been favourable to Tamil Nadu. Besides, the rejection of Kerala’s stand that Periyar is an intra-State river is considered justification of Tamil Nadu’s position.
The experts describe as significant the court striking down the applicability of the 2006 Act to the dam, as otherwise the law would have had serious implications for Tamil Nadu. Since the dam, lying in the territory of Kerala, is owned and operated by Tamil Nadu, the applicability, had it been allowed, would have adversely affected Tamil Nadu’s rights over the dam.
Another pertinent aspect of the judgment is the question of the validity of an agreement clinched before Independence. The court’s finding that the Mullaperiyar Lease Deed of 1886 will continue to be valid has put at rest the talk of a fresh agreement. Overall, the judgement is a reiteration of the court’s previous ruling delivered in February 2006, the experts say.
In the last eight years, one other development that strengthened Tamil Nadu’s case was the scrutiny of the dam safety by the Empowered Committee, set up on the order of the Supreme Court in 2010. The committee had gone into the issue from hydrological, structural and seismic parameters, the experts say.
As for the implication of the judgement on storage, the experts say that by raising the level to 142 feet provisionally, the State can have the benefit of storing 1.5 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) additionally. At the present permissible level of 136 feet, the dam can hold 6.1 tmc ft.
For Tamil Nadu, the judgement marked the second instance of favourable development in the inter-State river matters in 15 months.
On February 19, 2013, the Union government notified the final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, as demanded by Tamil Nadu for long.