SC asks panel to consider reducing water level at Mullaperiyar dam to 139 feet

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NEW DELHI, Aug 16 (PTI): Taking note of the “grave” flood situation in Kerala, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the disaster management panel of the Mullaperiyar Dam to urgently decide on lowering the water level by three feet by holding a meeting on Friday.

The direction to the disaster management sub-committee to reduce the water level up to 139 feet from the existing 142 feet came in the backdrop of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan writing to his Tamil Nadu counterpart E K Palaniswami seeking lowering of the water-level in the Mullaperiyar dam in the interest of its safety.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Indu Malhotra considered the plea for urgent hearing at 2 PM and decided to hear it on Thursday itself, observing that the flood situation the state was “grim and grave”.

The court directed the Disaster Management sub-committee of the Mullaperiyar Dam, set up by the Centre under section Section 9 of the Disaster Management Act, to hold an urgent meeting on Friday with the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMS) and the Chief Secretaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to deal with the situation.

It said 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 fixed the matter for hearing at 2 PM on Friday.

“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,” the bench said.

It asked the Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments to cooperate with the NCMS for providing adequate relief immediately to the displaced flood-affected families.

On being told that there was a system to warn people living downstream of the Mullaperiyar dam about release of water, the bench said the committee may suggest measures before releasing water in the downstream areas to handle the disaster so that the people are not hit by “the catastrophe of the flood”.

However, Tamil Nadu government opposed the plea with regard to bringing down the water level in the dam, saying the current inflow of water into the dam was 20,000 cusecs and due to rains, it may not be possible to reduce water level immediately.

Kerala government said the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam should be reduced to 139 feet to ensure that there was no safety issue with the barrage itself.

The bench said no party should take an adversarial stand in view of the crisis and observed: “You cannot bring the past into this. The present crisis requires a situational adjustment”.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by Kerala resident Russel Roy seeking, among other things, a direction to Tamil Nadu to manage the water level in the dam as the floods in Kerala have created a havoc.

It also directed the committee and the NCMS to come out with a disaster management plan and asked the two state governments to implement the decisions of the panel.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, informed the court that the NCMS headed by Cabinet Secretary had held a meeting on Thursday and all possible relief was being sent to the flood-affected people of Kerala.

The death toll in the current phase of monsoon fury in the southern state has crossed 70, while rains and flood water have caused extensive damage.

Rise in flood waters in Periyar River due to the rains and opening of all shutters of all major dams including Mullaperiyar, Cheruthoni, part of Idukki reservoir and Idamalayar, have severely affected the lives of people in downstream areas.

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