Mullaperiyar dam: Not issuing any notice, all broad issues to be considered in main matter, says SC

Mullaperiyar dam | Photo: Sajan V Nambiar

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday said it would not issue notice on the fresh petition filed in the matter pertaining to the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam as all the broad issues are already there in the main matter and it will consider them.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar adjourned the hearing on the pleas after the counsel appearing for Tamil Nadu requested the apex court to take it up on Wednesday saying he intends to take instructions in respect of some documents which were filed by the other side.

The top court is seized of a batch of pleas raising issues pertaining to the dam, which was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in Idukki district of Kerala.

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and C T Ravikumar, was told that a fresh petition has also been filed in the matter and the plea was listed for hearing on Tuesday.

“Now we are not issuing any notice in any matter (in the case). The issue is already there. All broad issues are there in the first matter. We will consider it in the first matter itself,” the bench said, adding the fresh plea will be listed along with the main matter.

At the outset, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu, requested the bench to take up the matter for hearing on Wednesday saying the other side has served some documents to them this morning itself.

“As requested by Mr Naphade… not to be called out today as he intends to take instructions in respect of new documents/affidavit filed by the other party which has been served on him today,” the bench said.

The bench observed it is willing to start hearing the matter right now but if there is some difficulty on one side, the court has to accommodate all the parties.

The Tamil Nadu government had last month told the apex court that it is “not justifiable” to have a fresh review on the safety of the dam before carrying out the strengthening measures ordered by the top court earlier.

The state had said this in its response to a status report filed in January by the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the supervisory committee which had said that a fresh review of the safety of the dam is now due and is required to be undertaken.

“In this water year 2021-22, water was stored in the dam at a level of +142 ft. from November 30, 2021, for about 18 days, and all the parameters of the dam were found to be within limits. Hence, there is no ground or necessity to have a fresh review on the safety of the dam for storing water up to +142 ft, now,” the state had said.

It had sought a direction to Kerala to cooperate and provide all necessary assistance in a time-bound manner so that the remaining strengthening and maintenance work as directed by the apex court in February 2006 and May 2014 as well as other decisions of the supervisory committee are implemented in letter and spirit during the next four months before the ensuing southwest monsoon.

In a status report filed in the top court in January, the CWC and the supervisory committee had said that aspects pertaining to the safety of dam were carried out during 2010 to 2012 by the empowered committee constituted under the directions of the apex court in 2010.

It had said the empowered committee, based upon the investigations, tests, and studies carried out by apex national organisations and specialist expert agencies, had concluded that Mullaperiyar dam was found to be safe in all respects -- hydrologically, structurally, and seismically.

On January 11, the apex court had said that litigation about the dam is not “adversarial” as this is public interest litigation in the sense that safety, security, and health issues of the people staying around the dam are involved in the matter.

The Kerala government had earlier told the apex court that "no amount of rejuvenation" can perpetuate the dam and there is a limit to the number of years one can keep dams in service through maintenance and strengthening measures.

It had said the only permanent solution for removing the "eternal threat owing to the safety concerns" of the dam and for protecting the safety of lakhs of people living the downstream of Mullaperiyar dam is to build a new dam in the downstream reaches of the existing dam.

In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the Kerala government had urged that the proposal to fix the upper rule level of Mullaperiyar dam at 142 feet on September 20 as formulated by Tamil Nadu may be avoided.

In its response to the affidavit filed by Kerala, Tamil Nadu had said that “repeated assertion” of Kerala and petitioners from there in the pleas filed from time to time seek to decommission of the existing dam and construction of a new dam, which is “wholly impermissible” in the light of the apex court verdict on the safety of the dam.

"The dam has been found to be hydrologically, structurally, and seismically safe,” Tamil Nadu had said.


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