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BREAKING| Mullaperiyar Dam : Supreme Court Allows Supervisory Committee To Operate Till National Dam Safety Authority Comes Into Force

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
8 April 2022 9:12 AM GMT
BREAKING| Mullaperiyar Dam : Supreme Court Allows Supervisory Committee To Operate Till National Dam Safety Authority Comes Into Force
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In the Mullaperiyar dam dispute between the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Friday directed that the Supervisory Committee -which was constituted by the Supreme Court in 2014 to monitor the safety arrangements of the 126-year old dam- should continue its operations till the National Dam Safety Authority under the Dam Safety Act 2021 comes into effect.It expanded...

In the Mullaperiyar dam dispute between the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Friday directed that the Supervisory Committee -which was constituted by the Supreme Court in 2014 to monitor the safety arrangements of the 126-year old dam- should continue its operations till the National Dam Safety Authority under the Dam Safety Act 2021 comes into effect.

It expanded the Committtee by adding one technical member each from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The reconstituted Supervisory Committee will decide all outstanding matters related to Mullaperiyar Dam's safety and conduct a safety review afresh. For this purpose, it may frame terms of reference in accordance with the provisions of the 2021 Act.

All powers in relation to the Mullaperiyar Dam will be vested in the Supervisory Committee until the Dam Safety Authority comes into operation, the Court stated in the order pronounced today.

"...the Supervisory Committee, in terms of this order, is deemed to be discharging all the functions and powers of the NDSA until a regular NDSA becomes functional under the 2021 Act and more so, orders of this Court in that regard", the Court observed.

The directives and recommendations of the Committee should be complied with by both States. The responsiblity lies with the Chief Secretaries of both the states in ensuring compliance of the Committee directions. The failure to comply with the orders of the Supervisory Committee will result in contempt of court and disciplinary action. The violations of the Committee's orders will also invite penal action under the Dam Safety Act.

Further, the Court held that the Supervisory Committee may also entertain the representations or suggestions given by the locals and after examining the same in time bound manner, take appropriate measures, as may be advised.

The Court also directed that the National Dam Safety Authority should be constituted at the earliest. What is passed now is an interim order and the States have been given liberty to approach the Court in case of any further conflict.

"...this is only an interim arrangement until the "regular NDSA" under the 2021 Act becomes fully functional", the Court said. The matter will be next taken on May 11, 2022, for status and compliance report.

A bench of Justices A. M. Khanwilkar, A. S. Oka and C. T. Ravikumar passed the interim order in a batch of writ petitions filed by Kerala-based parties seeking steps to ensure the safety of the dam.

On Thursday, the bench had turned down a plea made by the state of Kerala to replace the present Chairman of Committee.

The bench was against changing the composition of the present Committee. The bench said that it will equip the present Committee with the powers under the recently enacted Dam Safety Act 2021 and will permit the Committee to continue as a working arrangement till the National Dam Safety Authority comes into operation.  

Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Kerala, suggested that the Chairman of the Central Water Commission, or the Member, D & R, CWC (as the Centre notified a skeletal structure of the body on 30th of March, and it shows that this member, D&R, CWC is the acting chairman) be made the head of the Supervisory Committee. However, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, on instructions from the Department, submitted that it will not be feasible for the Chairman or Member, D & R, CWC to head the Supervisory Committee.

Gupta said that the present Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Gulshan Raj, Chief Engineer of the Dam Safety Organization, was lower in rank to the Additional Chief Secretaries of Kerala and Tamil Nadu who are members of the Committee. Hence, he sought for a person who is more senior in rank as the Chairman. The bench pointed out that this arrangement had been in existence since 2014 and added that disrupting the Committee could be counter-productive.

"We will not disturb the present Supervisory Committee, and we will permit one representative each from Kerala and Tamil nadu..", Justice Khanwilkar said.

The bench added that if a new person comes, it will be difficult for him to acclimatize with the situation, and hence it will be better that the persons who have been handling the matter in the past conitnue.

"If a new person comes, it will be difficult, there will be gaps in the decision...new committee will take time to acclimatize with the sitaution...Please understand, that new committee will not have comprehensive approach as there's no past experience...it will be prejudicial if the committee is destabilized.. the present arrangemnet is working well, and you want to disrupt it based on preceptions?", Justice Khanwilkar observed.

The bench cautioned against making any "experiments" with the arrangement and warned that a "half-baked cake will destroy the dam".

"Until new committee comes up which is made up by the Centre, till then let the present set up continue. Don't disturb the present committee based on perceptions", Justice Khanwilkar said.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 5) had asked the Centre and the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to consider a "working arrangement" where the court-appointed Supervisory Committee may be entrusted with the functions and duties of the National Dam Safety Authority under the Dam Safety Act, 2021.

On March 31, the Court had asked the Centre to file a note by Tuesday, detailing a time-line and plan as regards making functional the National Dam Safety Authority and the other bodies, the structure envisaged by the Dam Safety Act, 2021, and for making operational the scheme and the framework under the Act.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati had informed the bench that to make the National Dam Safety Authority fully functional, it will take one year. 

Case Title : Dr.Joe Joseph and others versus State of Tamil Nadu and others

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 356

Headnotes

Dam Safety Act 2021 - Mullaperiyar Dam Dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu - Supreme Court reconstitutes Supervisory Committee- Confers it powers of the National Dam Safefy Authority under the Dam Safety Act - Chief Secretaries of States liable for vioaltion of committee directions- The reconstituted Supervisory Committee will decide all outstanding matters related to Mullaperiyar Dam's safety and conduct a safety review afresh- the Supervisory Committee, in terms of this order, is deemed to be discharging all the functions and powers of the NDSA until a regular NDSA becomes functional under the 2021 Act and more so, orders of this Court in that regard.

Dam Safety Act 2021 -We express a sanguine hope that the competent authority may take appropriate steps to ensure that the regular NDSA under the 2021 Act is established at the earliest, as it cannot brook delay.

Click here to read/download the order




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