With the Centre lacking in both political will and moral authority to help find solutions to inter-State disputes, it needed the Supreme Court of India to step in to cool tempers between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the overheated issue of the Mullaperiyar dam. Putting first things first, the five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court asked the two States not to arouse people's feelings and create a fear psychosis on this issue. Clearly, the situation was threatening to get out of hand with chauvinist elements on both sides trying to shut out reasoned debate on what was essentially a question for technical experts to resolve. Neither political leaders nor lay people can contribute meaningfully to making decisions about the safety and stability of the 116-year-old dam. On the directions of the Supreme Court, the Empowered Committee, headed by the former Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand, is looking into all aspects of safety of the dam, and will soon submit its findings — on the basis of expert assessments. The proper course, as the Supreme Court pointed out, is to wait for the recommendations of the committee. The matter must not be left to fringe elements that are out to whip up emotions cynically.

The highest court in the land has made it abundantly clear that this is an issue on which politicking is inadmissible. Its merits cannot be determined on the strength of mobilised support, but only through legally sanctioned means. The two Chief Ministers, who have pursued a course of relative moderation in a potentially volatile situation, must now do more: they must take the lead in giving effect to what the Supreme Court has ordered as an immediate measure, and douse the flames in the border areas. Over the last few days, Theni in Tamil Nadu and Kumily in Kerala have witnessed violent protests and road blockades. In situations such as this, security personnel tend to give a lot of room to protesters, thus allowing public order to be compromised. Both State governments need to give clear instructions to their police forces to deal firmly with law-breakers. The process of finding a mutually acceptable solution cannot be hastened. The effort must not be aimed merely at balancing Kerala's apprehensions about the safety of the dam against Tamil Nadu's concerns over threats to its water rights. Issues of life and livelihood, which are seen to be at the heart of the dispute, need to be resolved to the reasonable satisfaction of both sides. But as long as rational principles guide the process of finding an enduring solution, there can be no cause for grievance on either side. After all, there can be no argument against science.

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