Mullaperiyar Dam: Maintain water level at 139.5 ft until Nov 11, rules SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled the water level at Mullaperiyar Dam should not exceed 139.5 ft until November 11. The apex court was hearing pleas seeking directions for supervising the water level at the century-old dam.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar said it would be open to the committee to review its decision about water level if the situation warrants it.

To assuage the apprehension of the parties we place on record, for the time being, the parties will abide by the water level notified by the expert committee, said the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.

Needless to observe that it will be open to the committee to review its decision from time to time including on hour to hour basis if the situation so warrants, it said.

The top court posted the matter for hearing on November 11 to enable Kerala to file a better affidavit, especially to deal with the issue on the rule curve and about the correct approach in that regard.

It said Kerala would file an affidavit on or before November 8 and it would be open to the parties to file affidavits or pleadings through e-filing before the next date of hearing.

The state had been contending the rule curve of 142 ft set by Tamil Nadu.

The counsel appearing for Kerala had said that it was "not safe to have the water level as high" as Tamil Nadu was proposing.

Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta appearing for Kerala said: "Please keep in mind, though monsoon is over in rest of the country in Kerala it's beginning now. It will only go up. If the level is already at 142 & it rains in the catchment area, reservoir height will rise. Downstream is all Kerala, upstream is TN."

Mullaperiyar Dam was built in 1895 on the Periyar River in the Idukki district of Kerala.

Earlier in the day, Kerala submitted a written note saying the dam is a 126-year-old composite gravity dam, and the hearting of the dam, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of its volume, was constructed with lime-surkhi concrete.

Quite understandably, seismic forces were not considered in its design. Inspite of strengthening measures taken twice, presently the dam is in deteriorating condition due to its age, it said.

Kerala further said there would be an exponential increase in the water pressure and uplift pressure acting on the dam when the water level is raised from 136 feet to 142 feet.

The consequences of any failure of this dam could be extremely catastrophic and beyond human imagination. The apprehensions of the Government of Kerala regarding the life and safety of more than 30 lakh people of five districts residing downstream of the dam has to be given due importance and consideration, it said, adding, Mullaperiyar, therefore, is exceptionally vulnerable because it has a large catchment area and limited storage capacity.

It said the coming monsoon, which is to set off during this week, too would likely affect the inflow into the dam, hence the state of Kerala reiterates its stand to increase the outflow to the maximum possible extent.

Hence, the logical next step is the construction of a new dam to ensure water to Tamil Nadu and security to people living downstream and to decommission the existing dam, the note said.

On October 25, the apex court had said that the supervisory committee should take a firm decision on the maximum water level to be maintained in the dam.

It had directed all the authorities concerned to interact immediately on an urgent basis on the issue saying it has something to do with lives.

The counsel appearing for Kerala, while referring to torrential rains in the catchment area of the dam, had said the water level should not be raised beyond 139 feet, as was directed by the apex court in August 2018 when the state was hit by floods.

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