In a major victory for Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the law enacted by the Kerala government to restrict the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam.
A five-judge Constitution bench led by Chief Justice R M Lodha held that the 2006 law framed by Kerala was unconstitutional since it interfered with the judicial functions and violated the doctrine of separation of power. The SC had in 2006 allowed raising the water level of the dam, prompting Kerala to come up with a new law.
The bench said that the water level must be increased from 136 ft to 142 ft to redress grievances of Tamlaght Nadu.
The bench also allowed Tamil Nadu to carry out necessary repair works in the dam.
It set up a supervisory committee, to be headed by a representative from the Cental Water Commission and one member each from the two states. The committee shall oversee the repair works and will also take all requisite safety measures.
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The bench was hearing a suit filed by Tamil Nadu government questioning the law enacted by Kerala in 2006 constituting the Dam Safety Authority to prevent the former state from raising the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam from 136 ft to 142 ft.
Tamil Nadu challenged the jurisdiction of Kerala to restrict the water level in the dam on the Periyar river.
It had also countered Kerala’s claim that Periyar was an intra-state river. Tamil Nadu had cited a 1950 report signed by the then Kerala state irrigation minister V R Krishna Iyer (who later became an SC judge) recording that Periyar was an inter-state river since drainage area lay in Madras.
Backing the conclusions of the SC appointed empowered committee, Tamil Nadu also said there was enough evidence to show that the dam was structurally, hydrologically and seismically safe for raising the water level.
The bench in 2010 had appointed an empowered committee, headed by former Chief Justice of India A S Anand, to go into the safety aspects and a report was submitted in April 2012.
According to Tamil Nadu, people living in the drought- prone districts of Vaigai basin were put to sufferings which could be addressed by raising the level at least up to 142 ft. Further the reduction in storage had affected the generation of hydro-electric power from the water that could be diverted to Tamil Nadu for irrigation.
On the other hand, Kerala had asserted its right to enact a law regulating the safety of dams in the state, insisting that the river rises and falls in Kerala which is why it is an intra-state issue. Kerala has defended the “Dam Safety Act” before the constitution bench and opposed Tamil Nadu’s claim over the river on which the dam is built.