New Delhi: Accepting the conclusions of the Disaster Management subcommittee, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Tamil Nadu government to maintain the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam at 139 ft, from 142 ft till August 31.
At the outset Tamil Nadu denied Kerala’s blame that it was responsible for the floods downstream of Mullaperiyar dam due to sudden release of water from the dam as alleged by Kerala. It said while floods started in Kerala on August 6, the water level in Mullaperiyar dam reached 140 ft only on August 14 and this was not the reason for the floods.
A three-Judge Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud gave this direction on a PIL filed by Russel Joy as an immediate precaution to guard against floods or other disasters.
Earlier, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha informed the court that the sub-committee met on August 23 on an urgent basis following floods in Kerala and took stock of the situation. He said that the current water level in the reservoir was 139.998 feet. He said the secretaries of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been informed of the decision.
The petitioner alleged that the floods downstream of Mullaperiyar dam was due to lack of coordination, no disaster management plan and people were living in constant fear of flash floods.
The CJI told counsel “the rains have stopped. Everything has been settled. Today there is a change in the circumstances”.
Senior counsel Shekhar Naphade for Tamil Nadu submitted that he sees “seeds of discord” in Kerala's affidavit. Kerala primarily wants a gradual release of water from the reservoir at 136 feet along with a "supervisory committee", comprising the Central Water Commission (CWC) chief and secretaries of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to take decisions by majority on the dam when there are floods.
He said Kerala also wants a "management committee" to manage the day-to-day operations of the dam. This committee should be headed by a Chief Engineer/ Superintending Engineer of the CWC, with both Chief Engineers/ Superintending Engineers of the two States.
Mr Naphade said “the Supreme Court had fixed the permissible water limit at 142 feet and formed a supervisory committee for the dam. But in this affidavit I see a clever device to get out of the judgment of this court.” The CJI, however, made it clear to Mr. Naphade that court would only go into the disaster management aspect and no other issue.
In reply to Kerala’s allegation blaming Tamil Nadu for sudden release of water from the dam, Tamil Nadu submitted that the State duly informed the counterpart of Kerala since the water level in the Dam reached +136 ft.
Thereafter, when the water level reached +138 ft., +140 ft., +141 ft. & +142 ft., suitable warnings were issued and the quantum of discharge were also intimated. Thus the State took all the required measures before water was released from the Dam.
Tamil Nadu said that out of 39 dams in Kerala, 33 dams have been opened as a result of large volume of water flow which has affected transportation, communication etc. The dams of Kerala have been opened from first week of August as they have reached maximum level, but Mullaperiyar dam spillway was opened on August 14 only.
In any event, the spillage from Mullaperiyar Dam is too small, when compared to the overall flood flows in Kerala during this monsoon up August 19.
Tamil Nadu said that since the downstream area of Mullaperiyar Dam is in Kerala, the Disaster Management Plan has to be prepared and made public by the State of Kerala in proper coordination with the Central Committee and the State of Tamil Nadu. In fact, the Centre on real time basis was managing the entire events. It is the responsibility of the downstream Kerala State to demarcate the flood prone area and inform the public, and remove the encroachment along the river course / banks, as stated in the Report of the Empowered Committee, 2012, which has been affirmed by this Court.
It said water level in the dam could be stored upto 152 ft, however, Kerala is obstructing Tamil Nadu from carrying out the balance strengthening works. If Full Reservoir Level (FRL) could have been restored to +152 ft., the quantum of release from Mullaperiyar dam would have been much less and there would have been no room to create panic in the minds of the people living downstream.
Giving date-wise figures on storage and release of water from Mullaperiyar dam, Tamil Nadu said it could be seen that that flood surplus from the Idukki dam is mainly due to the flows generated from its own independent catchment due to unprecedented heavy rainfall while the contribution from Mullaperiyar Dam was significantly less.
Even this small surplus from Mullaperiyar Dam could have been reduced to a major extent, if the State of Kerala had not obstructed to complete the balance strengthening works to enable Tamil Nadu to restore water the level upto 152 ft. Keeping in view the rains in the catchment area of Mullaperiyar Dam, the flood warning for every raise of water level of 1 ft. was issued to the concerned officials in the State of Kerala. When the water level reached 140 ft., water was allowed to spill through the spillway of the Dam after giving sufficient flood warning and was made in the presence of the Engineers of Kerala. The bench posted the matter for further hearing on September 6.