‘In larger public interest’: SC says need to strengthen Mullaperiyar dam safety panel

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The Supreme Court on Friday said that it may be in larger public interest to strengthen the Supervisory Ccommittee, constituted in 2014 for the safety of over 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam until the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), under the 2021 Act, becomes functional.

A bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and comprising Justices Abhay S. Oka and C. T. Ravikumar accepted the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments’ suggestions on permitting two technical experts – one each from both states – on the existing Supervisory Committee.

“The party-states must extend complete cooperation for ensuring that the directions given by the Supervisory Committee from time to time for the purpose of maintenance of the Mullaperiyar Dam and its safety, are complied with in prescribed time.

“Failure to do so will not only invite appropriate action for having violated the directions of this Court, but all concerned would be liable to be proceeded with under the 2021 Act,” it said.

Earlier, the Kerala government had told the court that no amount of rejuvenation can perpetuate the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar dam across the Periyar River.

The bench noted that a new law has been enacted by the Parliament titled “The Dam Safety Act, 2021”, which has received assent of the President on December 13, 2021, and mandates the constitution of a national committee to discharge functions, including surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of the dams such as Mullaperiyar Dam.

“We express a sanguine hope that the competent authority may take appropriate steps to ensure that the regular NDSA under the 2021 Act is established at the earliest, as it cannot brook delay,” it said.

The bench said the Supervisory Committee should also discharge all the functions of the NDSA delineated in Section 9 of the 2021 Act and, also in the same manner, exercise all its (NDSA’s) powers for enforcement of the directions given by it from time to time.

“Until the regular NDSA becomes functional, the Supervisory Committee, as reconstituted in terms of this order, shall be accountable for all matters relating to safety of the Dam including referred to in the 2021 Act and discharge the functions of NDSA specified in Section 9 of the 2021 Act,” it said.

“It may be in larger public interests to strengthen the Supervisory Committee, both in regard to its composition, as well as, scope of its functions to be brought in conformity with the provisions and powers of NDSA, as specified in the 2021 Act.

“Needless to mention that the reconstituted Supervisory Committee will decide all outstanding matters related to Mullaperiyar Dam’s safety and conduct a safety review afresh. For this purpose, it may frame terms of reference in accordance with the provisions of the 2021 Act,” it added.

The top court also directed the Central government to extend all logistical assistance to the Supervisory Committee, to enable it to effectively discharge its functions and to exercise powers in terms of this order.

“The Supervisory Committee may also entertain the representations or suggestions given by the locals and after examining the same in a time bound manner, take appropriate measures, as may be advised,” it added.

“We clarify that in absence of nomination of expert member by the state party, the Supervisory Committee shall be free to continue to discharge the task already assigned to it by this Court and also under the 2021 Act. As aforesaid, this is only an interim arrangement until the ‘regular NDSA’ under the 2021 Act becomes fully functional.”

The top court order came on a set of writ petitions, including by the locals residing in the downstream areas of the dam.

The bench was also informed that NDSA’s temporary structure has been created by the Central Water Commission, under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, on March 30 and a regular structure is likely to take some time.

The top court will take up the matter on May 11, for considering compliance-cum-status report.

20220408-194003

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