Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said on Wednesday it was unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not consider safety of the people in the state while striking down an act restricting the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam at 136 feet.
An apex court constitution bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha, while striking down the Kerala Irrigation Water Conservation Act, said that the water level could be increased to 142 feet.
Holding that there was no threat to the safety of the 120-year old dam, the court set up a three-member committee under whose supervision the water level will be increased.
Chandy said Kerala has no qualms in giving water to Tamil Nadu but safety was paramount. "The court, it seems did not look into the safety of the people living near the old dam. The state cabinet will now meet to decide what needs to be done on this," Chandy said.
As soon as the verdict came out, people living in and around the dam near Idukki district expressed their resentment and called for a state wide shutdown Thursday. "We expect all political parties to cooperate with our move to call for a shutdown to protest against the verdict," said Joy Nirappel, who heads the Mullaperiyar Action Council.
State Minister for Water Resources PJ Joseph said Kerala will now seek legal advice and decide what needs to be done. "Do you know that way back in 1979, the Central Water Commission had suggested that it's time that the Mullaperiyar dam is de-commissioned," Joseph added.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the Mullaperiyar dam, built under a 1886 pact between the then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile British Raj.
While the dam is located in Kerala, its waters serve Tamil Nadu. Kerala is seeking a new dam and has offered to build and fund it but Tamil Nadu has not agreed to this and has been engaged in a long and protracted legal battle that came to an end Wednesday.
Leader of Opposition VS Achuthanandan said that through the judgement, the fears of 3.5 million people living in five districts in Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Alappuzaha will rise as the safety of the dam is in serious doubt. "The Kerala assembly had unanimously passed an act to this effect and it appears that both the centre and the apex court have not given it much seriousness. I wish that the state government immediately calls a special session of the assembly to discuss this burning issue," said Achuthanandan.
The court said that the three-member committee, comprising a representative each of the Central Water Commission (CWC), Kerala and Tamil Nadu will carry out regular inspections. The CWC representative will head the committee.
Overall the apex court's verdict is a setback to Kerala's efforts to pull down the dam on the grounds of it being unsafe and then build a new structure. State Congress president VM Sudheeran opined that the need of the hour is not to make political capital out of the judgement but for all stakeholders put their heads together as this seriously affects the people of Kerala.