The Supreme Court today directed that the supervisory committee on the 126-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam should discharge all the functions and powers of the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) until a regular national authority becomes functional under the Dam Safety Act 2021.

The Apex Court said for strengthening the existing supervisory committee which was constituted earlier by the Apex Court, two technical expert members, one each for Kerala and Tamil Nadu, be made it's part.

A Bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice A S Oka and Justice C T Ravikumar said that until the regular NDSA becomes functional, the supervisory committee shall be accountable for all the matters relating to the safety of the dam.

The Apex Court said that 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, the Bench said.

The Court is hearing pleas raising issues about the Mullaperiyar Dam, which was built in 1895 on the Periyar river in the Idukki district of Kerala. The Bench directed the concerned ministry of the Government of India to extend all logistical assistance to the committee to enable it to effectively discharge its functions and exercise powers in terms of its order.

The reconstituted supervisory committee in terms of this order passed in exercise of our plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, as aforesaid, shall in addition to complying with the directions given in the reported decision, also discharge all the functions of the NDSA delineated in section 9 of the 2021 Act and also in the same manner exercise all its (NDSA's) powers for enforcement of the directions given by it from time to time, the Bench said in its order.

The Bench said the states must extend complete cooperation for ensuring that directions given by the supervisory committee for the purpose of maintenance of the dam and its safety, are complied with within the prescribed time.

Failure to do so will not only invite appropriate action for having violated the directions of this court but all concerned would be liable to be proceeded with under the 2021 Act. We say so because 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, it said.

The Apex Court said in case of any operational issues arising during the execution of directions given by the committee, the chief secretary of the concerned state shall be personally responsible to ensure that every direction given by the committee (including setting apart necessary funds or providing logistical assistance) is taken to its logical end without any exception.

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

The Bench said that the supervisory committee may entertain the representations or suggestions given by the locals and after examining the same in a time-bound manner, take appropriate measures, as may be advised.

It said the states shall nominate their technical expert, who must be well-versed in dam management, reservoir operation, instrumentation, etc, within two weeks.

As aforesaid, this is only an interim arrangement until the regular NDSA' under the 2021 Act becomes fully functional, the bench said and posted the matter for May 11 for submitting compliance-cum-status report by the committee and for consideration of other reliefs.

It said in case of any exigency before the next date of hearing, it will be open to the parties or the committee to approach the Court.

The Bench noted in its order that a new law, The Dam Safety Act 2021, was enacted by the Parliament and it received the assent of the President on December 13 last year. For the purposes of surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of the dams such as Mullaperiyar Dam, which is the subject matter in these proceedings, the responsibility is fastened upon the National Dam Safety Authority established under Section 8 of the 2021 Act, it said.

The Bench observed that the sweep of the 2021 Act is very wide and comprehensive as it focuses on all aspects regarding the safety of specified dams across the country, including the Mullaperiyar Dam.

It said regarding Mullaperiyar Dam, the apex court had earlier constituted a supervisory committee and the panel has been functioning satisfactorily since then. It said it was informed that a temporary structure of NDSA has been created by the Central Water Commission.

The Bench observed it would be desirable that the regular NDSA is put in place. It said until such time, the present arrangement has to continue and the supervisory committee needs to be strengthened.

"..we deem it appropriate to accede to the suggestion given by the state parties to strengthen the supervisory committee until the regular NDSA becomes functional in terms of section 8 of the 2021 Act....", it said.

The Bench said it also accedes to the suggestions given by the states that two technical experts be made part of the existing committee. Regarding the submission of Tamil Nadu's counsel that there are certain pending works, the bench said it would be open for the state to invite the committee's attention to those pending works.

Click here to read/download Order

With PTI inputs