Know What is the Dispute and Why Kerala and Tamil Nadu are Fighting over it?



Mullaperiyar Dam Verdict: The Supreme Court in its interim order on April 8, 2022 directed the reconstituted supervisory committee of Kerala’s Mullaperiyar Dam to carry out all the statutory functions until a regular authority is established. The court ruled that the Supervisory Committee shall be accountable in all matters relating to the safety of the dam till the National Dam Safety Authority is fully functional.

The court also stated that the Chief Secretary of the concerned state would be responsible to ensure that directions given by the supervisory committee reach a logical end and has directed the concerned ministry to extend logistical assistance to Supervisory Committee to conduct a safety review afresh.

The ruling was delivered by a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar. The bench also comprised Justices AS Oka and CT Ravikumar. The bench was hearing pleas raising issues about the safety of the 126-years old Mullaperiyar Dam, which was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in the Idukki district of Kerala.

Supervisory Committee on Mullaperiyar Dam

The reconstituted supervisory committee will include three experts, one from Kerala, one from Tamil Nadu and the third from the Centre. The apex court had earlier asked both Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments to not go into the history of the dam but focus on its future. 

Mullaperiyar Dam History

The 126-years old Mullaperiyar Dam is located on the Periyar River in Kerala’s Idukki district.  It is, however, managed by the Tamil Nadu government. The century-old dam was built was by the British in 1895 to meet the water requirements of Tamil Nadu and Madurai. 

Also Read: Mullaperiyar dam issue: Two shutters of Mullaperiyar dam opened, Idukki district in Kerala on red alert

What is the Mullaperiyar Dam Dispute?

The Mullaperiyar dam has been a point of dispute between the state of Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a long time. A 999-year lease agreement was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the British Secretary of State for India in October 1886. 

In 1956, the government of the newly formed Kerala state demanded to renew the agreement. In 1959, Tamil Nadu government began generating power from the dam with Kerala’s consent. A hydro-power project was commissioned in 1965 with four units with 35 megawatts each. 

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In the 1960s, concerns were raised over the safety of the dam and a joint inspection was conducted by Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments in 1964. The dam is located on the upper reaches of the river Periyar, which originates from Tamil Nadu and flows into Kerala. 

Tamil Nadu’s Stand

Kerala’s Stand

The Tamil Nadu government has steadily maintained that the Mullaperiyar is hydrologically, structurally, and seismically safe.  Kerala government has repeatedly raised concerns over the safety of the dam, calling it a threat to millions of people living in downstream of the Periyar River in Kerala. 
The state government had proposed to raise the height of the dam, which was opposed by the Kerala Government. The centre had appointed an expert committee in 2000 to review the dam’s safety and suggest ideal storage levels.  The state government had amended the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation Act, 2003 in March 2006 to bring Mullaperiyar into the schedule of “Endangered Dams” and restrict its storage capacity to 136 ft citing safety concerns. The state government also constituted a Dam Safety Authority. 
The Supreme Court of India allowed the Tamil Nadu government to increase the water level in the dam to 142 feet in 2006. The court later stated that the water level could be increased to 152 feet following strengthening work that was recommended by the expert committee. As per the Kerala state government, if the Mulleperiyar dam collapses at any point, it will wash away almost a 25 km stretch between Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams, destroying human settlements of millions of people.

Mullaperiyar Dam Safety Concerns

A UN study report published in 2021 pointed out that the Mullaperiyar dam has outlived its life and faces the risk of failure. The report noted that the century-old dam is situated in a landslide-prone and seismically active area and any failure will affect 3.5 million people. 

The UN report highlighted the structural flaws of the dam, as it was constructed using concrete surkhi, which is a combination of burnt brick powder and limestone.  

IIT Delhi had also conducted a flood routing study of the dam in 2008 and had found the dam to be unsafe. IIT Roorkee had also submitted a report in 2009 pointing out that the dam is in an earthquake-prone area.

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2014 SC Judgment on Mullaperiyar Dam Dispute

The Supreme Court of India in 2014 quashed the law passed by the Kerala assembly on the Mullaperiyar dam and ruled that the Tamil Nadu government can maintain water level in the dam at 142 feet and at 152 ft after completion of strengthening work. The court also appointed a three-member committee to supervise its safety aspects.

This verdict came following a suit filed by Tamil Nadu against the 2006 law enacted by Kerala to restrict the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam at 136 feet. The Tamil Nadu government had demanded to increase the water level of the dam to meet its agricultural needs.

The Supreme Court had appointed an empowered committee led by former Chief Justice of India AS Anand in 2010 to study the safety aspects of the dam. The committee had suggested that the dam was safe structurally and hydrologically and had proposed allowing Tamil Nadu to raise the water level of the dam from 136 feet to 142 feet after carrying out certain repairs.

Read Also: Supreme Court’s 2014 Verdict on Mullaperiyar Dam Issue

Background

Kerala Government had in an affidavit written the Tamil Nadu government to maintain the water levels in the dam at 137 feet in October 2021 when there were heavy rains in the state. The state had also written to the Supreme Court to decommission the dam saying that seismic forces were not considered in its design. The Tamil Nadu government in response said that the “repeated assertion” of Kerala and petitioners from time to time seek to decommission of the existing dam and construction of a new dam is “wholly impermissible” in the light of the apex court verdict on the safety of the dam. 

The Supreme Court had ruled on October 25, 2021 that a supervisory committee should take a “firm decision” on the maximum water level to be maintained in the Mulleperiyar dam. The court had directed all the concerned authorities to interact on an urgent basis on the issue, as people’s lives and property will be at risk. 





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