Time to talk: On Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the Mullaperiyar dam row

T.N., Kerala should discuss dam safety; legal recourse must be the last resort 

May 07, 2024 12:30 am | Updated 07:11 am IST

Tamil Nadu’s latest application in the Supreme Court of India on the Mullaperiyar dam row shows that even 10 years after the Court’s decisive judgment allowing water to be stored till 142 ft. from the previously reduced 136 ft., several issues with Kerala still remain unresolved. In a rejoinder to Kerala’s reply in a case filed by an activist, Tamil Nadu, the beneficiary-owner State, has accused Kerala, where the dam is located, of “crying foul” about the safety of the 129-year-old structure, while at the same time “wilfully obstructing” work essential for its maintenance. Despite the constitution of three panels, i.e., a Supervisory Committee (which was reconstituted by having a technical member from each State in June 2022) and two sub-committees (one of which is under the National Executive Committee of the National Disaster Management Authority) to ensure a high level of preparedness to face any disaster related to the dam, no one is any closer to finding a solution to the pending issues. Tamil Nadu’s grievance is that the reconstituted Supervisory Committee, despite having powers under the Dam Safety Act, 2021, had “miserably failed” to ensure that Kerala and its instrumentalities permit and facilitate dam strengthening and other related works. Tamil Nadu has also been pressing for the early completion of a comprehensive dam safety evaluation within five years, by December 30, 2026, as stipulated under the 2021 law.

But despite unresolved issues, judicial intervention has seen the adoption of rule curve, a tool in decision-making for smooth operation of the dam’s shutters, especially during floods, and the gate operation schedule, notwithstanding Kerala’s reservations. Apart from the dam-related issues, the proposal of a mega car parking project of the Kerala government is a matter of litigation. The conclusion of the Survey of India that the project site is outside the leased area has been disputed by Tamil Nadu. As for Kerala, dam safety has been its primary concern and it wants to proceed cautiously. It is time that the two State governments, which enjoy good relations, resumed bilateral negotiations to find a solution to pending problems while retaining their liberty to adopt legal recourse. Courts take their own time to arrive at their conclusion, even though Tamil Nadu has a more favourable track record with the Supreme Court than the other State on Mullaperiyar, going by the 2006 and 2014 judgments. As water and dam safety can be used by some elements to arouse emotions, the political leadership in both States should be proactive in thrashing out the differences. The proposed talks, even in the event of not leading to any major breakthrough, may at least provide both States an opportunity to appreciate each other’s position better and leave no room for vested interests to vitiate the atmosphere.

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