The Supreme Court on Monday, October 25, took note of the rising water level of the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala, managed by Tamil Nadu, stating that the situation on the ground is serious. The court has asked both Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments to consult each other and take a call on the issue. The SC has also warned that it will intervene if the authorities concerned do not act on the issue. With the catchment area of the Mullaperiyar dam, located in Kerala’s Idukki district, receiving heavy rains, the water level in the dam is nearing its maximum storage level.
With the water level reaching 136 feet on October 23, the Tamil Nadu government which manages the functioning of the dam, had issued a first level warning. On Sunday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his Tamil Nadu counterpart MK Stalin, asking him to regulate the water level in the dam by releasing water and cautioned him about the risk it otherwise posed to people living in the downstream area.
On Monday, counsel for one of the petitioners from Kerala, informed the Supreme Court that due to heavy rains in Kerala, the water level in the dam has risen and that the matter needs urgent consideration as people living in the downstream area of the dam are under threat, Bar and Bench reported. The Kerala government pleaded the court to pass orders like in 2018, fixing the maximum storage water level to be 139 feet. In 2018, following the floods, the Supreme Court had passed a similar order, Live Law stated.
SC: We direct all parties to consult each other and take a call in coordination with state governments about the water level. It is about the life and property of people. it is serious situation on ground. this is not a political arena— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) October 25, 2021
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu government stated that as of Monday morning, 9 am, the water level in the dam was 137.2 feet and contended that they are allowed to keep the water level upto 142 feet as per Supreme Court orders in 2006 and 2014. Considering the parties, Supreme Court stated that it is not upto the court to decide on the water levels and that it has to be done by the supervisory committee. This has to be decided in a day or two, a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar stated.
Meanwhile, the TN counsel argued that the state was discharging water greater than the inflow and that there is ‘less likelihood’ for rain in Idukki district (where the dam is located) in the next five days. However, the court hit out stating, “Instead of debating here, do something constructive there. This isn’t a political arena where you’ll debate, it's about people’s lives. It's due to inaction of one party or the other, we have to interfere,” Live Law quoted Justice Khanwilkar as saying.
The Supreme Court had also recently taken note of a petitioner from Kerala citing a report by the United Nations University Institute on Water, Environment and Health which had named Mullaperiyar as one among six dams in the country which is at risk. In its report titled ‘Ageing water infrastructure: An emerging global risk,’ they mentioned the over a century year old dam to have ‘significant structural flaws’ and that ‘3.5 million people are at risk if Mullaperiyar dam was to fail’. The dam is constructed with concrete ‘surkhi’ — a combination of limestone and burnt brick powder.