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Mullaperiyar supervisory committee issue

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 21, Apr 2022
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In connection with the Mullaperiyar dam dispute, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre and the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to consider a “”working arrangement” where the court-appointed Supervisory Committee may be entrusted with the functions and duties of the National Dam Safety Authority under the Dam Safety Act, 2021.

  • The Dam Safety Act of 2021 has come as a panacea to end the prolonged and bitter legal battle over Mullaperiyar dam between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • The 2021 Act comprehensively provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance to prevent disasters caused by dams.
  • Moreover, the Dam Safety Act mandates the setting up of two specialised bodies, National Committee on Dam Safety and the National Dam Safety Authority, to evolve policies.

Background: The SC constituted a permanent Supervisory Committee in 2014 to oversee all the issues concerning Mullaperiyar dam. The dam is a source of friction between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

What’s the issue?

  • Kerala said the water level should not go above 139 feet, the same as what the court had ordered on August 24, 2018, when the State was hit by floods. 
    • Lives of 50 lakh people would be in danger if the water level in the dam is raised.
    • Commissioned by the Kerala Government in the latter part of the 2000s, a study by IIT-Roorkee raised questions about the survival of the dam, located in seismic zone-3, in the event of an earthquake of a fairly high magnitude. 
    • A series of tremors felt in the area in 2011 caused alarm. 
    • Subsequently, the floods of 2018 and the erratic nature of annual monsoons ever since brought the focus back on the 126-year-old dam.
  • However, Tamil Nadu objected to this decision citing the Supreme Court judgments of 2006 and 2014, which fixed the maximum water level at 142 feet.

Mullaperiyar Dam

  • It is a masonry gravity dam built at the confluence of Mullayar and Periyar rivers.
  • Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by Tamil Nadu following an 1886 lease indenture for 999 years (the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement) that was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of State for India for the Periyar Irrigation works.
  • It was constructed between 1887 and 1895.
  • It redirected the river to flow towards the Bay of Bengal, instead of the Arabian Sea and provide water to the arid rain region of Madurai in Madras Presidency.

National Dam Safety Authority

  • The Dam Safety Act, passed by Parliament on December 8 last year, states that a National Dam Safety Authority will cooperate with State-level dam safety organisations and owners of dams for standardising safety-related data and practices.
  • The Authority will be headed by a chairman and assisted by five members to lead its five wings:
    • policy and research
    • technical
    • regulation
    • disaster
    • Resilience and administration and finance.
  • The Authority will have its headquarters in Delhi and will be supported by four regional offices.
  • The Centre also constituted a 22-member National Committee on Dam Safety which will be headed by the Chairman of the Central Water Commission.
  • A key function of the Authority is to resolve any issue between the State Dam Safety Organisations of States or between a State Dam Safety Organisation and any owner of a specified dam in that state, as per the notification.