In major boost, SC permits TN to increase Mullaiperiyar’s water level

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In a major boost to the long-pending demand of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Mullaiperiyar Dam’s structure is not weak and permitted Tamil Nadu to increase the water storage level to 142 ft from the present 136 ft. The apex court also termed the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act 2006, enacted by the state legislature soon after an earlier order by the same court, as “un-constitutional”.

A five-member constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by chief justice, R M Lodha, delivered the order on Wednesday. The bench had earlier reserved its judgment on the case in August 2013, after prolonged arguments. The Tamil Nadu government had earlier pleaded the Supreme Court to intervene, after the then Kerala government enacted the Act in 2006.

The Mullaiperiyar Dam originally had a capacity to store water up to 152 ft. However, Kerala government citing the weakness of the dam’s structure and threat to lives of scores of people in downstream areas, wanted it to be reduced to 136 ft height. The Tamil Nadu government wanted it to be at least 142 ft, but Kerala kept stalling this demand leaving the Tamil Nadu government with no option but to approach the Supreme Court.

The apex court had in February, 2006, directed the Kerala government to permit storage of water up to 142 ft. After carrying out civil works to strengthen the structure, it wanted the water storage level to be increased further to 152 ft.

In March, 2006, the then Kerala government introduced the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act 2006, and passed it in the state legislature, to supersede the apex court’s ruling. This was again challenged by the Tamil Nadu government in the Supreme Court, which subsequently set up an expert committee to carry out detailed inspection of the dam’s structure. The committee in 2010 had submitted that the structure was safe and it was not even affected by tremors in the then immediate past.

The apex court bench stated that Kerala cannot obstruct Tamil Nadu from increasing the water level and also from carrying out repair works as per the court’s earlier order, dated February 27, 2006. However, to allay fears of Kerala over the dam’s safety, the court has directed the appointment of a three-member supervisory committee, comprising one representative each from the two states, besides a representative of the central water commission, who will be the chairman of the committee.

Expectedly, the order was received with jubilation in Tamil Nadu, with political leaders cutting across party lines, welcoming the decision. Farmer associations, especially from the five southern districts of the state, who stand to benefit resulting in increased irrigation areas, too welcomed the order. Chief minister, J Jayalalithaa dedicated the victory to the “people of Tamil Nadu”.

However, in Kerala, the scenario was different. While certain organisations have called for a state-wide bandh on Thursday, the opposition has slammed the ruling government for not handling the issue deftly.


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