Supreme Court to hear Mullaperiyar dam case on Dec. 10

Bench says pleas filed on various aspects of safety, maintenance and security of people living near it should be heard comprehensively

November 22, 2021 02:49 pm | Updated 02:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Mullaperiyar Dam in Idukki district of Kerala.

The Mullaperiyar Dam in Idukki district of Kerala.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed with Kerala, Tamil Nadu, activists and the residents living in the downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam that questions on the safety and maintenance of the 126-year-old structure, especially during heavy rains, should be heard expeditiously.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar fixed a hearing of the case on December 10 for directions, immediately after the conclusion of two ongoing cases before it.

The Bench said the Registry would put up the Mullaperiyar case even earlier than December 10 if the two part-heard matters were concluded sooner than expected.

Justice Khanwilkar stated that the diverse petitions filed on the various aspects of safety, maintenance of the dam and security of the people living near it should be heard comprehensively.

The court assured the parties it would go into the details of every aspect put forth before it in the various petitions.

Tamil Nadu’s stand

The Tamil Nadu government has so far stood firm by its position in the court that the dam is “hydrologically, structurally and seismically safe”. It had blamed a “social media campaign” triggered in Kerala against the dam. It said the steady flow of petitions to the court from Kerala, questioning the dam’s safety, even calling for its decommissioning, was a bid to harass it.

It accused Kerala of trying “somehow to prevent Tamil Nadu to raise the level to 142 ft. at the Mullaiperiyar dam on one pretext or the other by raising issues which have been fully addressed by experts from Central Water Commission [CWC]”.

Tamil Nadu, in an affidavit, noted that the safety of the dam had been supported by reports of the expert committee and the empowered committee after extensive study. The height of storage level of the dam at 142 ft. was endorsed by the court in 2014 in a judgment. The safety aspects of the dam were being constantly monitored by the Supervisory Committee set up seven years ago.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, for the Supervisory Committee, said the issues had been “thrashed out” between the two States in several meetings.

Kerala’s demand

Kerala, in turn, has demanded a reconsideration of the rule curve, as the dam was situated in a seismic zone. It accused Tamil Nadu of adopting an “obsolete” gate operation schedule dating back to 1939.

The court is hearing a petition filed by Idukki resident Dr. Joe Joseph and office-bearers of the Kothamangalam block panchayat in Kerala expressing their apprehensions about the lack of proper supervision of water levels in the dam located along the Periyar tiger reserve.

The petitioners, including Dr. Joseph, had accused the Supervisory Committee of having become “lethargical” in the safety inspection and survey of the dam, saying it has delegated its duties to a sub-committee of local officials.

Advocate V.K. Biju, appearing for the Idukki-based Periyar Protection Movement, alleged that there was “deep” seepage issues in the dam structure. Tamil Nadu cannot dismiss the apprehensions of 50 lakh people in Kerala about the dam’s safety by calling it a social media campaign.

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