Mullaperiyar dam matter not adversarial, parties should assist in identifying core issues: SC

Mullaperiyar dam was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in Idukki district of Kerala. File Photo

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday said the litigation pertaining to 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam is not adversarial as this is a PIL in the sense that safety, security and health issues of the people staying around the dam are involved in the matter.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar told the advocates appearing for the respective parties in the matter that they should assist it in identifying the core issues which needs to be addressed by the court.

Mullaperiyar dam was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in Idukki district of Kerala.

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar, noted that advocates appearing in the matter have agreed to have a joint meeting to identify the core issues that need to be addressed by the top court in these proceedings.

They (advocates) have assured the court that they will articulate the issues on which there is consensus and also the issues on which there is difference of opinion and submit a note in that regard before the next date of hearing, the bench said.

When one of the lawyers raised the issue pertaining to seepage data, the bench said it has to be first decided what are the core issues that the court needs to answer in these proceedings.

The apex court said management of water level in the dam is a matter for which an expert committee has already been appointed by the court and safety of the dam is also a related issue which has to be addressed by the panel.

The bench observed that this is not an adversarial litigation.

This is a public interest litigation in the sense that safety and security and health issues are involved of the persons staying around that dam. Therefore, all of you should help us in identifying the core issues which we need to answer in the judicial side. We are not sitting here to do administration of the dam, the bench orally said.

The top court, while posting the matter for hearing in the second week of February, said the written note be submitted on or before February 4.

During the hearing, the bench de-tagged a separate plea, which pertained to the issue related to proposed construction of a reservoir at Mekedatu, from the batch of petitions related to Mullaperiyar dam.

The parties appearing in the plea pertaining to Mekedatu issue told the bench that it is a separate matter.

We are delinking this matter, the bench said, adding it would come up for hearing on January 25.

Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government had moved the apex court seeking to restrain Karnataka from proceeding with any activity regarding the proposed construction of a reservoir at Mekedatu across the inter-state Cauvery river.

In the Mullaperiyar dam matter, 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.

It had said the only permanent solution for removing the "eternal threat owing to the safety concerns" of the dam and for protecting the safety of lakhs of people living the downstream of Mullaperiyar dam is to build a new dam in the downstream reaches of the existing dam.

In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the Kerala government had urged that the proposal to fix the upper rule level of Mullaperiyar dam at 142 feet on September 20 as formulated by Tamil Nadu may be avoided.

In its response to the affidavit filed by Kerala, the state of Tamil Nadu had 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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