In the wake of the Supreme Court rejecting Kerala’s contention in the dispute with Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar dam, the state on Monday sought Centre’s mediation and a presidential reference to the apex court to address its anxiety over the issue.
A Substantive Motion unanimously adopted by the Kerala assembly, moved by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy voicing the state’s deep concern over the safety of the 119-year-old dam, urged the Centre’s mediatory initiative to bring about a settlement between the two neighouring states on building a new dam.
The debate on the ‘serious situation arising out of the Supreme Court judgment’ was sought at the outset by Opposition Leader V S Achuthanandan as a submission. After a three-hour discussion, during which members from both the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front and opposition Left Democratic Front spearheaded by Communist Party of India (Marxist), shared similar concerns, the Chief Minister moved the substantive motion under rule 275 of the Rules of Procedures of the House.
The motion wanted the Centre to mediate to bring about an agreement between the two states on building a new dam. It also urged the President to refer the matter to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution in view of the threat the structure posed to the safety of life and property of about four million people living in the downstream districts. “Anxieties regarding the safety of the 119-year-old dam are still prevalent among the people of Kerala. Construction of a new dam is the ultimate solution to ensure safety of Kerala and water for Tamil Nadu,” the motion said.
It said in 1979, as proposed by the Central Water Commission, the two states had even identified the spot for building a new dam. The motion also expressed concern over the ecological consequences resulting from the raising of water level of the reservoir and wanted the Centre to ensure that forest and environmental laws were enforced strictly in the area around the dam.
Though there was unanimity of views on most issues, the opposition members had frequent digs at the government suggesting it had failed to convince the apex court of the state’s anxieties. Initiating the debate at the outset, Achuthanandan recalled that the House had passed unanimous resolutions on the issue on four occasions since 1993 but had failed to achieve their intended purposes.
Apart from seeking central mediation, he wanted the possibilities of approaching a larger bench of the apex court to be explored. Replying to the debate, Chandy said the apex court did not give any consideration to any of the issues raised by the state and he could only say that he was ‘pained’ about this since the government respected judiciary and the rule of law.
Water Resources Minister P J Joseph said the state did not receive due justice in the report of the Supreme Court empowered committee which went into the safety aspects of the dam. The apex court had held that the Mullaperiyar dam was safe and allowed the Tamil Nadu Government to raise the water level to 142 feet and ultimately to 152 feet after completion of strengthening measures on the dam. It had struck down a law promulgated by the Kerala government declaring Mullaperiyar dam as endangered and fixing the water level at 136 feet.