Dam Safety Act has come into force, may be way for resolution of impasse on Mullaperiyar dam: SC told


PTI, Mar 31, 2022, 8:20 PM IST

The Dam Safety Act 2021, which is a much wider statutory scheme, has come into force and its provisions may be a way for resolution of “impasse” in the matter pertaining to the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam, the Supreme Court was told on Thursday.

The apex court asked the Centre to file a note detailing the time frame and also when the National Dam Safety Authority, envisaged under the 2021 Act, would be functional.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar is hearing the pleas raising issues pertaining to the Mullaperiyar Dam, which was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in Idukki district of Kerala.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the supervisory committee, told the bench about the Dam Safety Act 2021 and said the legislation has come into force.

“Your lordships may consider, this is a much wider statutory scheme now in place and under this scheme, the authority also has been notified. There is a provision, I will take your lordships through some of the relevant provisions, and this may be a way for the resolution of the impasse that seems to have come,” Bhati told the bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and C T Ravikumar. The ASG said the Act is for all dams but it also deals with peculiar position where the owner is in another state and the dam is situated in another state.

She argued that the National Dam Safety Authority will be the relevant authority for the purpose of Mullaperiyar dam issue.

Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu, also referred to the 2021 Act. “All these issues, which are being debated between the two states, that authority is empowered to resolve all those issues. Rather, obliged to resolve all those issues,” the bench observed, adding that the Act is very comprehensive.

“Now, the Act is there. The defined authority is there. All issues in law must go to that authority. Even the supervisory committee established by this court, the efficacy of that, will have to be now gone into,” the bench said.

The bench said it want the Centre to file a note giving the details.

“You file your note. You have to define the specific time frame and when this authority will become functional so that it can effectively deal with the issues,” the bench told Bhati and posted the matter for hearing on April 5.

On March 24, the top court had suggested to Tamil Nadu and Kerala that issues regarding structural safety of the Mullaperiyar dam can be left to be dealt with by the supervisory committee which can be strengthened.

During the hearing in the pre-lunch session on Thursday, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Kerala, told the bench, “We could not break the ice” “It is very unfortunate,” Naphade said.

The bench said it would pass order and the whole problem can be resolved by strengthening the mechanism which is existing. When Naphade referred to the Dam Safety Act, the bench said it would consider this aspect also.

Later, during the hearing in the post-lunch, Bhati told the bench about the 2021 Act. On March 29, the apex court had said that it would hear the Mullaperiyar dam matter on March 31 after the Tamil Nadu government informed it that they have had “some dialogue” on the issue which is going on. The top court had earlier observed that issue raised by Kerala, which has said that process for setting up a new dam in the downstream reaches of the existing dam should start, can be debated, discussed and resolved by the supervisory committee which can make its recommendation on this.

The counsel appearing for Kerala had last week told the bench that the process for setting up a new dam in the downstream reaches of the existing dam should start and the upper rule level of Mullaperiyar Dam should be 140 feet and not 142 feet.

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.

In its response to the affidavit filed by Kerala, the state of Tamil Nadu had earlier said that “repeated assertion” of Kerala and petitioners from there in the pleas filed from time to time seek to 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 dam has been found to be hydrologically, structurally, and seismically safe,” Tamil Nadu had said.

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