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Supreme Court to hear plea regarding safety of Mullaperiyar Dam on Monday

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The Supreme Court will on Monday hear a fresh petition concerning the imminent threat to the safety of more than a century old Mullaperiyar Dam by unprecedented rains or seismic activity, alleging that in case it collapses, millions of citizens of Kerala will perish. 

A Bench comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice C.T. Ravikumar will hear the petition filed by Keralite Ajay Jose and Ors through AOR Manju Jetley for the protection of lives of millions of fellow citizens and their own. 

They have sought an order or direction to be issued to the Respondents- State of Tamil Nadu, State of Kerala and the Central Government for reinforcing the Mullaperiyar dam until a new dam is put in place.

As an alternative, they have suggested that the storing capacity of Vaigai dam should be augmented by the State of Tamil Nadu or additional storage facility should be created in the state to keep the water level of Mullaperiyar dam at safe levels without any adverse effect on the water supply and generation of power by the state. 

Mullaperiyar is a 100-year-old Dam, which impounds the Periyar River in Kerala State, downstream to Tamil Nadu. It was constructed during the British Rule in 1895, with the intention of keeping it in service for the next 50 years. The current condition of the age-old dam is concerning as several cracks have appeared on the dam leading to leaks and leaching. In addition to that, it’s location in a seismically active area coupled with heavy rainfall and flooding faced by the State of Kerala in recent years puts the lives of millions of people at risk. Moreover, it poses risk for the safety of dams of the Idukki project downstream, the failure of which could result in a catastrophe. The State Committee reports and opinions of experts confirm the apprehension of petitioners. 

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In order to avoid the catastrophe and reduce the risk to life and economy, the petitioners suggest the decommission of the Mullaperiyar dam and the establishment of adequate safety mechanisms to keep the loss to life and damage to property to the lowest possible in the event of the unthinkable happening.

The plea stated that in 2011, a minor earthquake caused three cracks on the top surface of Mullaperiyar Dam. In 2021, it included in the list of ageing dams according to which, these aged structures incur rapidly rising maintenance needs and costs while simultaneously declining their effectiveness and posing potential threats to human safety and the environment. 

The Supreme Court is already seized of similar matter pertaining to the safety and security of the Mullaperiyar Dam. The State of Tamil Nadu has 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. 

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Tamil Nadu has prayed that Kerala be directed to cooperate, and provide all necessary assistance in a time-bound manner so that the remaining strengthening and maintenance works and has further sought that CWC/ Supervisory Committee carry out review on the safety of the dam only after completing the remaining strengthening works.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the issue of the 126-year-old dam, where Kerala insists the dam is not safe and wants a new dam in its place, whereas Tamil Nadu insists that the dam is structurally strong.

Recently, the Central Water Commission in its report had stated 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.

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The writ petition highlighted the inaction of the Supreme Court-appointed Supervisory Committee in charge of overseeing the material and safety aspects of the Dam, and seeks proper dam monitoring.

The Court, via its order dated October 25, 2021, had directed all authorities to interact immediately and directed the Committee to take a firm decision about the maximum water level to be maintained in the dam.

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