Kerala government does not want to win the case filed by Tamil Nadu challenging the State’s dam safety legislation before the Supreme Court! This argument may appear strange; but that is what many in government wish.
If the Supreme Court upholds the legislation – the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, then the State will have all the powers to reduce the water level of Mullaperiyar reservoir, dismantle it or replace it with a new dam. Politicians and officials here are acutely aware of the difficulties in using the power they will get in case of a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court, against the background of emotional opposition from Tamil Nadu.
This is why Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph is calling for speedy enactment of Dam Safety Bill proposed by the Centre. (The Centre has drawn up a Bill for this, but it has not been introduced in Parliament). If a Central Act is passed, it will supersede the State legislation (which is what Tamil Nadu also wants. However, it has its own objections to the provisions of the the proposed Central legislation). When that happens, the State will lose all its powers to ensure safety of dams in the State. When the Centre enforces the Act, things are not likely to work in favaour of Kerala. (Note the reluctance of Centre to Act against Tamil Nadu, even to insist on its officials and Chief Minister to attend talks with Kerala). Many issues may also get close attention of proposed Central Dam Safety Authority. However, Mr. Joseph is willing to sacrifice power, if Kerala government and the State Dam Safety Authority could escape from a tedious task of taking control of a dam in its territory.
It is notable that the Authority had not even moved a finger to ensure safety of any dam in the State though it was established five years ago. The Supreme Court has ordered status quo regarding water level in the Mullaperiyar dam, but no other powers of the Authority has been curtailed by the Supreme Court. It has not stayed any of the clauses of the Act. So, there is nothing that prevents the State Authority from issuing orders to the custodian of the dam (Tamil Nadu) to take precautionary steps. (The dam falls within in its jurisdiction.)
For example, it could have ordered that all the seepage from Mullaperiyar should be collected and measured. As all the seepage is not getting collected in the galleries (which exist only on the concrete back up provided by Tamil Nadu as part of the strengthening measures), it is necessary to have structures downstream to catch all the seepage. Seepage can give an indication of damage to the dam, especially from tremours if compared with earlier volumes.
Another direction that the Authority could have given is regarding increasing of the efficiency of existing spillways for achieving marginally better safety from floods. A technical committee had recommended as back as in the nineties that the earth behind the spillways should be removed and a slope should be ensured to enable speedy discharge of water. It was only this year that the State government intervened and removed the earth and debris dumped behind the spillways. However, no slope is being ensured. The State government acted only after the water level rose to 136 feet. So, the bulldozers are now working practically in water.