Kerala government urges Supreme Court for independent safety review of Mullaperiyar Dam

The State of Kerala has informed the Supreme Court that fresh review of the safety of 126-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam should be conducted by an independent panel of experts comprising qualified Engineers and experts in the respective fields i.e. design, geology, hydrology, hydro-Mechanical dam safety, construction and supervision, instrumentation, seismicity. 

While replying to the response filed by State of Tamil Nadu, the State of Kerala has submitted that the change in the weather phenomena over the past years like erratic heavy rainfall, tremors/earthquakes, etc. have impacted the safety of the dam structure. 

In addition to that, the State of Kerala has suggested that Guidelines for Safety Inspection of Dams, January 2018 should be adhered to while carrying out Comprehensive Dam safety Review Procedures. The State has emphasized on the approval by the Supervisory Committee of the study and agencies conducting the tests, details of which should also be shared with the State parties. 

It emphasised on the fact that all the tests and investigations should be conducted to check the hydrological, seismic and structural safety of the dam and further urged that the Committee should guarantee that officers from Kerala are involved in the study. 

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Finally it is suggested that the study should be completed in a time-bound manner and test study reports entailing the findings should be shared with the State of Kerala and to be finalized by the Supervisory Committee. 

The above given suggestions by the State of Kerala is in response to the status report filed by the State of Karnataka in the Supreme Court which is seized of the matter concerning the safety and security of the Mullaperiyar Dam. 

The State of Kerala has denied submission filed by the State of Tamil Nadu in its reply affidavit filed on 12.11.2021, purportedly stating that it had dealt with all the issues raised by the State of Kerala.

The State of Kerala stated, that it had sought the reconsideration of the Rule Curve formulated by Tamil Nadu, Comprehensive Instrumentation Plan including seismic instrumentation and other aspects mentioned in the Status Report on account of heavy rainfall experienced by the State of Kerala in the last 4 years but the State of Tamil Nadu had failed to answer these concerns. 

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Further, the State of Kerala stated it has no intention to obstruct the strengthening and repair work of the Dam undertaken by the State of Tamil Nadu and the alleged delay in issuing necessary clearances to the proposals is due to the shortcomings in the proposals and in fact the delay is from the part of Tamil Nadu in submitting the details in proper format. 

With regard to the issues of repair work of the approach road, cutting of trees through the Forest area located in the State of Kerala for carrying out the balance strengthening measures of the Baby Dam, the State has submitted that the Supreme Court is yet to issue directions in the matter and such work requires clearance under Wild Life (Protection) Act, Forest Conservation Act and Environmental (Protection) Act as it concerns the ecology in the area. 

Hence, the State of Kerala has made certain suggestions with regard to the Mullaperiyar dam and issues that have caused concerns on the safety of the structure. They have made a proposition for fresh review of the safety issues concerning the Dam by an independent panel of experts which could also include international experts as the dam is not provided with a comprehensive instrumentation plan including seismic instrumentation, the seismic accelerographs as recommended by the DSARP Panel has not been installed even after three decades and the seepage noticed in the dam is not the actual seepage of the dam as the seepage measuring devices are not installed in the old main dam. 

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The Kerala Government further denied the allegation that it did not permit data collection from the Mullaikodi rain gauge station and submits that the access was merely regulated by the State. 

Contrary to the allegation State of Kerala has submitted that under the state-of-the-art rainfall network an initiative by the State 11 Automatic Rain Gauges and 2 Automatic Weather Stations have been installed and raw data received from them has been shared with the State of Tamil Nadu. 

Furthermore, once the rectification of the instruments as well as the validation process is completed real-time data can be shared with the State of Tamil Nadu.

The Supreme Court three-judge bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Abhay S Oka and CT Ravikumar is seized of batch of pleas filed by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, activists and the residents living in the downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam raising the questions on the safety and maintenance of the 126-year-old structure, especially during heavy rains. 

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On 3rd February, 2022, the State of Tamil Nadu had told the Supreme Court that due to the “obstructionist” attitude of the State of Kerala, it has been deprived of carrying out the required immediate repair work on the Mullaperiyar Dam, in response to the affidavit filed by the Central Water Commission and the Supervisory Committee. 

On 25th January, 2022, the Respondent No 3/ Central Water Commission and Respondent No 4/ the Supervisory Committee filed its Status report, jointly. The Central Water Commission had told the Apex Court that the overall condition of the Mullaperiyar Dam and its appurtenant structure, based upon visual inspection conducted by the Supreme Court-appointed Supervisory Committee, was found to be “satisfactory”. But added that a fresh review of the dam’s safety was due.