Even as Kerala battled unprecedented floods that left more than 100 people dead and inflicted large-scale damage to property and infrastructure, the Supreme Court had to step in and ask it and neighbouring Tamil Nadu to shun adversarial positions and make “situational adjustment” over the Mullaperiyar dam issue. Taking note of the “grave” flood situation in Kerala, the apex curt on Thursday ordered the dam’s disaster management panel — which consists of nominees of both the state governments — to urgently decide on lowering the water level by three feet to 139 feet by holding an urgent meeting on Friday. The court’s direction came against the backdrop of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan writing to his Tamil Nadu counterpart EK Palaniswami seeking lowering of the water level in the dam in the interest of its safety. Stating the century-old reservoir was “safe” enough to store water up to 142 feet, Tamil Nadu had earlier turned down Kerala’s plea for reducing the water level.
Besides, Tamil Nadu cited the Supreme Court’s May 2014 directive that allowed it to increase the water level from 136 feet to a maximum of 142 feet. The Mullaperiyar dam is situated in Kerala’s Idukki district but is owned and operated by Tamil Nadu. Kerala has been demanding the decommissioning of the dam which has over the years developed leaks. But Tamil Nadu had all through refused reducing water level on the ground that the dam is safe. “An effort has to be made to bring down the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam to 139 feet so that the people living downstream do not live in constant fear,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justice Indu Malhotra said. “You cannot bring the past into this. The present crisis requires a situational adjustment,” the bench told the Tamil Nadu government. It also asked the Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments to cooperate with the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMS) for providing adequate relief immediately to the displaced flood-affected families.
The court further said that if the physical presence of the officials for the meeting cannot be ensured, then the meeting should be held via video-conferencing on Friday morning. It also fixed the matter for hearing on Friday at 2 pm. The Centre, represented by additional solicitor general PS Narasimha, informed the court that the NCMS headed by the Cabinet secretary had held a meeting on Thursday and all possible relief was being sent to the flood-affected people of Kerala. Kerala continued to battle a resurgent monsoon on Thursday, with cities and villages submerged by flood waters. While the death toll rose to over 100, lakhs of people are still marooned. More than 30,000 have been evacuated and a red alert has been declared in all 14 districts of the state. Heavy rainfall has also lead to the collapse of the public transport system in many parts of the state. Southern Railways and Kochi Metro have suspended operations, even as the Kochi airport remained shut. All educational institutions are closed.