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Mullaperiyar Dam case: Supreme Court issues notice in plea seeking a direction to Kerala to terminate 1886 lease

The petition was filed by the Suraksha Public Charitable Trust requesting the apex court to recommend Kerala government to revoke the 1886 lease agreement if Tamil Nadu violates the directions of the Constitutional Bench issued in 2014.

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The Supreme Court has issued notice to the central government, state government of Kerala and Tamil Nadu on a plea seeking termination of Mullaperiyar’s 1886 lease agreement. 

A two-judge bench headed by Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari issued the notice. The court said the petition seeking cancellation of lease agreement will be considered along with the petition against Mullaperiyar supervising committee on April 22. 

The petition was filed by the Suraksha Public Charitable Trust requesting the apex court to recommend Kerala government to revoke the 1886 lease agreement if Tamil Nadu violates the directions of the Constitutional Bench issued in 2014. 

Advocate Wils Mathew, appearing for the trust, said that Tamil Nadu had not complied with the various directions of the 2014 Supreme Court Administrative Tribunal and therefore the contract could be terminated. 

In the present case, there was failure of State of Tamil Nadu to carry out construction of an evacuation tunnel at low level to make possible evacuation of water in the event of a distress to the 125 years old Mullaperiyar Dam, as prescribed mandatory in the ‘Guidelines for Preparing Operation and Maintenance Manual of Dams’ by the Central Water Commission.

The lease deed entered between Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of state in council for Periyar Project on October 29, 1886.The lease deed was then amended by the successors of the original parties i.e, State of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in 1970.  In view of Kerala floods in 2006, the Apex court had permitted the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam to be raised to 142 ft and further permitted strengthening works of the dam. 

In 2014, the court constituted a supervising committee to supervise and carry out works to keep the 125 years old dam safe. The Central water commission had issued the updated ‘Guidelines for Preparing Operation and Maintenance Manual of Dams’ which has not been compiled by the State of Tamil Nadu in 2018.

In January 2018, it was submitted there was failure of State of Tamil Nadu to carry out construction of an evacuation tunnel at low level to make possible evacuation of water in the event of a distress to the 125 years old Mullaperiyar Dam, as prescribed mandatory in the ‘Guidelines for Preparing Operation and Maintenance Manual of Dams’.

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In July 2020, the petitioner submitted a letter to the Chairman of Supervising Committee to enquire about the status of the work directed to be carried out for the safety of the oldest dam in India. To which, the committee had replied that the said works did not fall under the purview of their department.

In August 2020, the petitioner had submitted in a letter to the State of Kerala to construct a protection wall as recommended by the Geologoical Survey of India to save human lives in the event of dam break on account of failure of the respondents,  State of Tamil Nadu and Supervising Committee.

In October 2020, the petitioner filed a writ petition before Kerala High Court, seeking an appropriate direction to the State of Tamil Nadu to terminate the annexure of P1 and 2 of lease deed, and to initiate the necessary steps for the construction of the protection wall. The court had dismissed the petition citing that the subject matter involves interstate dispute in distribution of river water and safety of dams.

In March 2021, the petitioner in a new writ petition submitted that there were major lapses on the part of respective respondents in taking due care as is required in issues like water bomb. The petitioner alleged that the supervisory committee was evading the responsibilities given by the constitution bench to evaluate the safety of Mullaperiyar dam. 

Later, the notice was issued to both the parties including Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The court had also decided to hear the new writ petition along with the writ petition filed in 2018 seeking to reduce the water level in Mullaperiyar dam.

Mullaperiyar dam is located in Kerala’s Idukki district near Thekkady on Periyar River but is maintained and managed by the Tamil Nadu government.  

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