The Supreme Court on Wednesday, December 15, said the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu might have political compulsion outside but both the states should behave like any normal litigant before the court in the matter related to the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. The apex court observed that the two states are making statements and political observations against each other but the court is not concerned with that.
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar said that before making any grievances in the court, the parties must first approach the supervisory committee before taking any step for the release or management of water level in the dam, built in 1895 on the Periyar river in Idukki district of Kerala.
“We say no more. Both sides must abide by this discipline without exception and no fresh application be moved before this court for such grievances which can be sorted out by consensual approach of all stakeholders,” the bench said.
The top court was hearing an application filed by Kerala government, which was seeking a direction to Tamil Nadu not to release a huge quantity of water in the wee hours from the dam saying it causes heavy damage to the people living downstream of the dam.
The bench observed that the supervisory committee is the best judge to take a call on this aspect and it would take into account the request for release of water and also on whether there is a need for that. It said if the parties would make a request in this regard, the committee may consider it expeditiously in right earnest, depending upon the urgency involved.
“This other side in-fighting should stop now. Before the court, both of you should behave like any normal litigant, not take this extreme position,” the bench orally observed.
“You may have political compulsion outside, but not in courtroom at least. You are making statements against each other, all political observations are being made. We are not concerned with that. Please understand what we are saying,” the apex court said.
It said when there is a committee to look into all these aspects, the apex court would say that even the aspect of release of water can be gone into by the committee. The bench observed that matters related to day-to-day management of the dam should not come before the top court and the parties should consensually resolve the issues before the committee.
At the outset, the counsel appearing for Kerala said the state has moved an application in the matter. Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu, said these applications will keep on coming and the apex court should take up the main matter.
Kerala's counsel told the bench that Tamil Nadu must give 24-hour notice in advance to them before releasing water from the dam in the wee hours as it leads to flooding.
“Instead of examining the grievances as made in this application which may involve debatable issues and contentious positions, we deem it appropriate that the parties, for such request, must first approach the supervisory committee before taking any steps for release or management of the water level in the dam, the bench said,” adding, “That would assuage the apprehensions of both sides.”
The apex court said that the pleas raising issues related to the dam would come up for hearing on January 11.
In an application filed through advocate G Prakash, the Kerala government has also sought a direction to the Tamil Nadu government to control the water level by releasing water from the dam throughout the day instead of releasing a huge quantity of water at the wee hours without giving sufficient warning time.
The application has said that a joint technical on-site committee for spillway release, comprising two members each from the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, be constituted to decide on the quantity and time of surplus discharge through spillway shutters to Kerala.
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 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, the state of Tamil Nadu had said that repeated assertion of Kerala and petitioners from there in the pleas filed from time-to-time seek 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 Tamil Nadu government had told the apex court that "repeated assertion" by Kerala to seek decommissioning of the dam is "wholly impermissible" as the dam is hydrologically, structurally, and seismically safe.
Explained: The Mullaperiyar dam conflict and an alternate solution