Heavy floods in Kerala have once again opened the gates of debate over water level to be maintained in the British-era Mullaperiyar dam, which has been a subject of persistent debate between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The Supreme Court on Monday (October 25) asked both the state governments to coordinate and find a solution considering people’s “lives are at stake”.
The reason for debate is the height at which the water level has to be maintained in the 150-year-old Mullaperiyar dam, which is located in Idukki district of Kerala but operated from Tamil Nadu.
“We direct all the parties to consult each other in coordination with (the) state governments. Take a call on the water-level. Do it with immediacy. It’s a very serious issue. It’s a matter of people’s lives and property,” stated the two-judge bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar in response to two writ petitions filed from Kerala, seeking urgent action to restrict the water level in the dam.
Advocate Wills Mathew, speaking on behalf of one of the petitioners, said the last week’s deluge raised the water level in the dam to dangerous levels. “Life of 50 lakh people is at stake,” Mathew told the court.
Another petitioner quoted from the Supreme Court judgement during the 2018 flood that said that dam height should be maintained at 139 feet. “But there is an immediate need to raise it higher. If that is not done, it will cause harm to people in the lower stream,” the lawyer representing the petitioner said.
“Instead of debating here, do something constructive there. Everyone has to work seriously and sincerely. This isn’t political arena where you’ll debate, it’s about people’s lives. It’s due to inaction of one party or other that we have to interfere,” said Justice Kanwilkar.
Also read: What Kerala is doing to avoid a repeat of ‘Great Flood of 2018’
Advocate V Krishnamurthy, speaking on behalf of Tamil Nadu, quoted from 2006 and 2014 judgments of the apex court to argue that the water level can be maintained at 142 feet. At 9 am on Monday (October 25), the water at the dam is at 137.2 feet, said Krishnamurthy.
Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has made a written request to the Tamil Nadu CM, M.K. Stalin, seeking “gradual release of water from the Mullaperiyar Dam through the tunnel to Tamil Nadu”.
“With the current inflow, it is feared that the reservoir level may reach 142 feet once the torrential rain intensifies. Hence, there would arise an urgent need for the gradual release of water from Mullaperiyar dam through the tunnel to Tamil Nadu,” Vijayan said.
Previously, Kerala has complained about Tamil Nadu government suddenly releasing water several times, resulting in anxiety among people of Kerala.
Also read: Idukki dam: How Kerala’s prized asset sometimes turns fiend
Recently, a United Nations’ “University-Institute for Water, Environment and Health” report raised alarm about the health of the age-old Mullaperiyar dam. The report, titled “Ageing water infrastructure: An emerging global risk,’ stated that the “failure” of Mullaperiyar dam would be catastrophic, affecting the lives of nearly 35 lakh people.
The report states that Idukki, where the dam is located, lies in the earthquake-prone zone. The UN report states: “Leaks and leaching are also concerning, as the methods and materials used during construction are considered outdated compared to current building standards.”
Justices AM Khanwilkar asked both the states to tell “what should be the maximum level that is to be maintained and till when it should be maintained”. The matter will be heard in the SC again on Wednesday (October 27).