The Supreme Court on August 16, 2018 directed the Tamil Nadu government to consider lowering the water level at Mullaperiyar dam to 139 feet from the current 142 feet. The directive comes considering the "grave" flood situation in all the 14 districts of Kerala.
The Supreme Court also ordered the National Crisis Management Committee to meet on August 16 over Mullaperiyar Dam storage and management and file a report on the matter on the same day.
The SC bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Indu Malhotra took a serious note of the grim flood situation in Kerala and asked the sub-committee to hold an urgent meeting tomorrow morning with the Centre's National Crisis Management Committee (NCMS) and the Chief Secretaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala through a video-conference if physical presence of officials cannot be ensured.
The Ruling: Key Highlights
• The bench stated that an effort has to be made to bring down the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam to 139 ft so that the people living downstream should not live in constant fear.
• The Tamil Nadu government had opposed the plea with regard to bringing down the water level in the dam, saying that the inflow of water presently is over 12,000 cusec in contrast to the outflow of 5,000 cusec.
• The bench said this was not the time to go into the past and efforts have to be made to deal with the present crisis.
• The bench also directed that the affected and displaced people be given adequate relief immediately.
• It also directed the committee and the NCMS to come out with a disaster management plan and asked Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments to implement with the decisions of the panel.
• The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, informed the court that the NCMS had a meeting today and all possible reliefs are being sent to the flood-affected people of Kerala.
• The bench had posted the matter for further hearing at 2 PM on August 17.
The Supreme Court took up the case for hearing after a Kerala resident filed an urgent petition in the matter.
With water level in the Mullaperiyar reservoir breaching the Supreme Court-fixed limit of 142 feet, an Idukki resident, Russel Joy, had approached the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter.
Kerala had repeatedly requested the Tamil Nadu authorities to release the water gradually as the catchment areas were receiving copious rain.
However, according to reports, Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K. Palaniswami had expressed his unwillingness to act on the request of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan to reduce water level of Mullaperiyar Dam.
The Tamil Nadu CM had stated that the Supreme Court had permitted the water level to be maintained at 142 feet.
The Mullaperiyar Dam is a 116-year-old dam, which was constructed between 1887 and 1895 by John Pennycuick.
It is located 881 m (2,890 ft) above mean sea level, on the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats in Thekkady, Idukki District of Kerala.
The dam is located in Kerala on the Periyar River but is operated and maintained by Tamil Nadu, hence it has been an issue of contention between the two states since many decades.
Although the Periyar River has a total catchment area of 5398 km2 with 114 km2 in Tamil Nadu, the catchment area of the Mullaperiyar Dam itself lies entirely in Kerala.
The water level in the dam touched the maximum limit- 142 feet for the first time in 35 years in November 2014.
The reservoir has again now hit the maximum limit of 142 feet, following incessant rains in Kerala.
• Tamil Nadu can only draw 2,300 cusecs (cubic foot per second) of water from the reservoir for irrigation purposes but the current inflow is more than 20,508 cusecs.
• The remaining water has to be drained to the larger Idukki reservoir in Kerala, which is already encroaching closer to its maximum storage capacity.
• In total, the Mullaperiyar dam has 13 shutters, including three old ones. All of them were opened for the first time in history. They were opened up to 1.5 metres to drain the excess water. They can be opened up to 16 m.
• As much as 10,000 cusecs of water have been released from the Mullaperiyar reservoir to the Idukki reservoir since 15th night. Authorities have warned that the outflow could be increased to up to 30,000 cusecs, aggravating the unprecedented flood situation in Kerala.
• Though the Mullaperiyar reservoir is within Kerala’s territory, Tamil Nadu has control on it based on a pre-independence pact and subsequent court orders.
• Incessant rains may force Tamil Nadu to release more water from the Mullaperiyar reservoir. The water level in the Idukki dam has already risen to 2,398.90 ft, just slightly below its storage capacity of 2,403 ft.
• The Kerala authorities have raised the first and fifth shutters of the Idukki dam for 2 m and the second, third and fourth shutters for 2.3 m. They may be forced to lift the shutters further if more water ends up in the reservoir from the Mullaperiyar dam.
Floods in Kerala
The state of Kerala is currently witnessing its worst flood crisis in over a century. Among 14 districts, 13 continue to be on red alert.
The South West monsoon hit the shores of Kerala on May 28 and the second spell of incessant showers that started on August 8 have continued almost without a moment of stopping till today, bringing almost the entire state to a complete standstill.
The incessant rains have caused the rivers in the region to swell, urging the authorities to open the shutters of all the dams in the state.There are around 55 dams in the state and all the ones with shutters have been opened.
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan revealed on August 17 that the death toll in the state due to the floods has risen to 164 since August 8.
Nearly 2, 23,000 people are currently living in 1, 568 relief camps across the state.
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