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Dam height hike allowed: Tamil Nadu pleased, Kerala unhappy

Posted on May 07 2014 | IANS

New Delhi, May 7 : The Supreme Court Wednesday struck down a law that sought to restrict the water level in Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala, a ruling welcomed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa as a "sweet victory" but dubbed unfortunate by her Kerala counterpart Oommen Chandy.

The apex court's constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, while striking down the Kerala Irrigation Water Conservation Act, said the water level in the dam could be increased to 142 feet from 136 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.

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 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 been engaged in a protracted legal battle.

The apex court said the three-member panel, comprising a representative each of the Central Water Commission (CWC), Kerala and Tamil Nadu, will carry out regular inspections. The CWC will head the committee.

Kerala decided to file a review petition in the apex court, said Chandy.

Addressing reporters in Thiruvananthapuram after the weekly cabinet meeting, he said it was most unfortunate that such a verdict has come. He said it had been decided to file a review petition before the same apex court bench and an all-party meeting also would be called to discuss what needs to be done.

Terming Kerala's demand for a new dam "just", he said their policy was water for Tamil Nadu and safety for Kerala, but added his state has never ever whipped up passion on this issue and "will continue to maintain calm and we as a government will do everything to soothe the feelings of the people living in and around the dam".

In his initial reaction after the verdict came in the morning, Chandy said it was unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not consider safety of the people in the state.

As soon as the verdict came, people living in and around the dam near Idukki district in Kerala voiced their resentment and called for a shutdown in the state Thursday.

"We expect all political parties to cooperate with our move to call for a strike to protest against the verdict," said Joy Nirappel, who heads the Mullaperiyar Action Council.

Opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan said judgement would only heighten the fears of 3.5 million living in Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Alappuzaha districts vis-a-vis the dam.

"I wish the state government immediately calls a special session of the assembly to discuss this burning issue," he said.

Political leaders in Tamil Nadu welcomed the Supreme Court judgement.

Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa Wednesday termed the Supreme Court's judgement in the Mullaperiyar Dam dispute as a "sweet victory" for the state.

"After victories in gazetting the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's final award and preventing privatisation of Neyveli Lignite Corporation, Tamil Nadu's rights have been upheld in the Mullaperiyar Dam issue through the Supreme Court. It is a sweet victory news that has made me immensely happy," she said in a statement released in Chennai.

PMK founder S. Ramadoss said though justice had been delayed, the rights of Tamil Nadu had been upheld.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi also expressed happiness.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko said the judgement was a death blow to Kerala's wayward attitude.

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