With Kerala receiving a huge setback in the Mullaperiyar legal battle, the stance taken by the state in the Supreme Court has been widely criticised as serious lapses on its part have more or less ruled out chances for a reconsideration of the verdict.
A close look at the SC judgment shows Kerala was digging its own grave, as once again the state failed to furnish relevant documents to substantiate its arguments before the apex court. The two major points highlighted by the state to maintain the water level at 136 feet were that the dam was unsafe and that the Mullaperiyar was an intra-state river. However, it is evident from the judgment that the state has miserably failed to submit supportive documents on these two counts. The judgment has categorically pointed out that “Kerala government and Kerala State Legislature did not have a single piece of information of fact before it concerning seismic coefficient values, Probable Maximum Flood levels or any other matter or material contradicting or even doubting the finding of this court in 2006 judgment which was based on the findings of the Expert Committee”.
The second point is whether the Periyar is an inter-state river. During the argument, Kerala asserted that the Periyar is an intra-state river as it rises in Quilon district in Kerala and traverses only through the territory of Kerala before falling into the Arabian Sea. Also, the total catchment of the Periyar basin is 5,398 sq km of which only about 113 or 114 sq km lie within the territory of Tamil Nadu. Even this small catchment of 113 sq km is in the downstream region of the Mullaperiyar dam and therefore, no water from this catchment is contributed to the kitty of the Mullaperiyar dam.
Meanwhile, the court dismissed this claim, observing that “since Kerala has raised the plea that Periyar is an intra-state river, obviously, the burden is on Kerala to prove this fact. Kerala, except asserting that the Periyar river rises in and traverses only in the territory of Kerala before entering the Arabian Sea and no part of the land in Tamil Nadu abuts Periyar, has not produced substantial evidence to prove that the Periyar is an intra-state river. Kerala has not discharged its burden to the satisfaction of the court.”
Most important, the court observed that “Kerala’s witness M K Parameswaran Nair has admitted that in chapter LXIII under the heading “Interstate waters” from “Water Resources of Kerala” published by the Works Department in 1958, Periyar has been mentioned as an inter-state river.”
At the same time, the failure to furnish the evidence points the finger to authorities, because as per the Supreme Court’s terms of reference, the empowered committee was free to receive further evidence it considered as appropriate.
Sivan Madathil, a senior lawyer at the HC, said it was failure on the part of the state nominee as the SC predominantly relied up on the committee report on the safety aspects. “Unfortunately, the nominee member from Kerala could not have taken proper appreciation and care to place all the records before the panel,” he said.