SC Judgment on Mullaperiyar Dam

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  • The Recent Supreme Court Judgment on Mullaperiyar Dam in Kerala (The Supreme Court adjudicated under the Article 131, where it has original jurisdiction in the inter-state disputes) :
    • It held the Kerala legislation of 2006, which banned raising the Mullaperiyar Dam’s height to 142 ft., calling it as unconstitutional.
    • It upheld the Tamil Nadu contention that the dam needs strengthening and there was no need to replace the dam.
  •  Kerala in 2006 Brought In the Dam Safety Act. The reasons it quoted were:
    • The dam is weak, owing to its old structure that was built in 1895.
    • Hence, it was declared as endangered under the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment Act).
    • It also said that a new dam was needed to fulfill the needs of two states. Besides, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had also permitted the Kerala Government to conduct its own survey regarding building of the new dam.
    • Kerala also stated that at present, the water can be stored up-to only 136 ft., and so enhancing it to 142 ft. might prove to be dangerous.
    • It also said that Tamil Nadu is expecting more and more from other state resources, to satisfy its own requirements.
    • Tamil Nadu appealed against this act.
  • The Contention Put forth by Tamil Nadu
  • The river Periyar is considered as the lifeline of Theni, Madurai, Shivganga, and Ramnad districts. It is the main source of drinking water, irrigation, and also for the power generation.
  • Tamil Nadu claims unfettered rights under the 1886 lease agreement.
  • It insists that as the dam height has not risen to 142 ft. between 1980 and 2005, there was a loss of crop for around 40,000 Crores.
  • It also said that Kerala refuses to recognize the plight of farmers from these drought prone regions.
  • The Implications of This Judgment of the Supreme Court:
  • It implies that the states should avoid unilateral action against one another.
  • The courts are willing to adjudicate in sensitive issues.
  • It also implies that the rights provided by the courts cannot be abolished by the state legislation.
  • It also implies that the pre 1947 agreements still survive.
  • The Supreme Court emphasized that the scientific findings, through its appointed Justice A. S. Anand headed Empowered Committee (EC), should be respected and valued. It takes the judgments on the recommendations of this Empowered Committee.
  • What Could Be The Way Ahead?
  • Both the states could follow the Empowered Committee’s recommendations. It stated that either a new dam, after the due Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been carried out, or a new tunnel, allowing evacuation of unused water, could be undertaken, that too after consensus among the party states.
  • The Supreme Court directive should be implemented in its true spirit.
  • Kerala has said that it will file a review plea.
  • There should be a consensus between both the states, which should be mutually built, wherein the two states should have a thorough assessment through a Joint Expert Committee, and settle the issue initially.
  • The interstate council could play a proactive role in dispute resolution.
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