NEW DELHI/CHENNAI: A Union Environment Ministry committee has recommended granting of Terms of Reference (ToR) to conduct a study for construction of a new dam at Mullaiperiyar, proposed by the Kerala government, to replace the 123-year-old existing dam citing recent floods in the state. Tamil Nadu, which owns and operates the dam in Thekkady of Kerala, on Tuesday termed the panel’s act contempt of court and said it would file a contempt petition against the ministry as the decision violated the Supreme Court verdict dated May 7, 2014.
“It’s contempt of court. We will file a contempt petition against the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests” a top TN government official told Express.Kerala approached the ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) for River Valley and Hydroelectric Projects on September 27 for collecting baseline data and carrying out a study to get a comprehensive picture of the situation at the dam site. “The EAC observed that collecting data and a study is minimum requirement for taking up any project and cannot be denied. The EAC... recommended for grant of ToR of the proposed project with certain conditions,” said the meeting’s minutes.
The conditions were that ToR clearance did not necessarily mean the project was eligible for getting green clearance. Kerala has to seek all necessary clearance before submitting application for green clearance. “Their (TN’s) prior consent for base data collection for preparation of EIA report is necessary,” the panel added.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been at loggerheads over the Mullaperiyar dam for several decades now. Tamil Nadu in August this year approached the Supreme Court seeking to prevent Kerala from carrying out Environment Impact Assessment for a new Mullaperiyar dam but the apex court turned down the plea.
The SC in December 2017 had allowed TN to raise the water level to 142 feet and ultimately to 152 feet after completion of strengthening measures on the dam, against reservations from Kerala which said it is situated in earthquake-prone Idukki district and any cracks in the dam could cause devastation downstream.
“The project proponent (Kerala government) intimated the EAC that in view of the recent development and severe floods in Kerala State, the Government is keen to conduct the studies on the proposed project in order to know the present situation,” noted the minutes.
Kerala also mentioned that in the recent emergency meeting of Subcommittee of National Executive Committee (NEC), Ministry of Water Resources held on August 27, it was mentioned that the dam safety issues are settled by the empowered committee and the technical parameters regarding dam and antecedent conditions considered by the committee form the base line for future conditions rather than any number of studies earlier than that.
It may be noted that on June 11, 2015, strongly objecting to Kerala government’s plan to build a new dam, then TN Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reject Kerala’s proposal for conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment study for the new dam.