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Mullaperiyar Dam Issue explained – Supreme Court issues notice to Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Mullaperiyar Dam Issue explained – Supreme Court issues notice to Kerala and Tamil Nadu


  • GS 2 || Polity || Other Constitutional Dimensions || Inter-State Relations

Why in the news?

Mullaperiyar Dam:

  • Mullaperiyar dam is built on kerala land near tamil nadu- kerala border on periyar river.
  • It is leased by kerala state to tamil nadu state for 999 yrs and its maintained and operated by Tamil nadu govt. Mullaperiyar dam was built with a life period of 50 yrs.
  • It has now crossed that period by approx 115 yrs.

History of the dam:

  • On 29 October 1886, a lease agreement for 999 yrs was made between the Maharaja Travancore, Viakham, Thirunal Rama Varma and the British Secretary of state for India for Periyar irrigation works. The lease agreement granted full right, power and liberty to the secretary of state for India to construct
  • After independence 1947, the Kerala government said that the earlier agreement signed between British Raj and Travancore was invalid and needed to be renewed. The agreement renewed in 1970 when C Achutha Menon was Kerala chief minister, and accordingly Tamil Nadu government has been operating the dam and has been paying to Kerala government for the past 50 yrs.

Mullaperiyar Inter-State Water Dispute:

  • The dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu states is because of the control and safety of the dam and the validity and fairness of the lease agreement.
  • Kerala’s concern;
    • Concern over the safety of dam; as 120 year-old Mullaperiyar dam outlived its safe-life period.
    • Safety of people; abnormally heavy rain that experienced by the Chennai could jeoperdise the safety of the dam thus cause flood which cost life and property.
    • Threat to the Periyar National Park (biodiversity hotspot), located around the dam’s reservoir.
  • Tamil Nadu’s concern:
    • Around lives of five districts of Tamil Nadu revolved around the water supplied from the dam, be it for irrigation or drinking.
    • Claims after repairing the dam in the 1970s, it is safe and sound.
    • Scraping the decision taken by Kerala government under the disputed Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (amendment) Act, 2006, the SC allowed Tamil Nadu to increase the height of the dam to 152 ft. The SC argues that the issue is under the IWDS
    • Under article 262 which seeks state’s request to set up IWDS tribunal, the centre is unable to take any decision in this regard but the Centre can ensure the proper rehabilitation of the nearby people, water purifier plant for the tamil nadue, allow constructing of new dam, amend the existing IWDS act to empower centre to have a say in this matter.

Committees appointed to look into the issue:

  • Supervisory Committee: A three-member supervisory committee was appointed by the centre and the Supreme Court in 2006 which was headed by senior Central Water Commission (CWC) officer, LAV Nathan.
    • The committee was empowered to oversee the repair work and allowed to take the required safety measures for the benefit of both the states and the dam.
    • It was also free to issue necessary directions to Kerala and Tamil Nadu required for the safety of 119 yrs old Mullaperiyar Dam.
  • S. Anand Committee:
    • The committee was constituted to look into the dispute and prepare a report within six months. The committee was mandated to study all the aspects of the 119 yrs old dam including its safety.
    • According to the reports of the committee appointed by the Supreme Court which was headed by former chief justice of India A.S. Anand the dam is structurally and hydrologically safe and Tamil Nadu can raise the water level from 136ft to 142ft after carrying out certain repairs. The report also says that the dam is seismically safe.
  • Joint Inspection Committee: The Supreme Court also constituted a joint inspection committee on Mullaperiyar Dam to conduct a chemical test of the samples of seepage water from over the 119 yrs old dam. This committee was constituted to supervise the restoration of full reservoir level (FRL) in the Mullaperiyar Dam to the elevation of 142ft.

Provisions for the distribution of water in Indian Constitution:

  • The relevant provisions of the Indian Constitution are
    • Entry 17 in the State List,
    • Entry 56 in the Union List, and
    • Article 262.
  • The first provisions makes water a state subject, but qualified by Entry 56 in the Union List, which states: “Regulation and development of inter-state rivers and valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.”
  • Article 262 explicitly grants parliament to legislate over the matters in Entry 56, and also gives it primacy over the Supreme Court. As documented by Iyer (1994), Parliament has not made much use of Entry 56.

Measures to resolve dispute:

  • The Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956: Pursuant to the power conferred by the Constitution (article 262), Parliament has enacted the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. Its main features can be thus summarized:
    • A State Government which has a water dispute with another State Government may request the Central Government to refer the dispute to a tribunal for adjudication.
    • The Central Government, if it is of opinion that the dispute cannot be settled by negotiation, shall refer the dispute to a Tribunal.
    • The Tribunal can appoint assessors to advise it in the proceedings before it.
    • The Central Government may frame a scheme, providing for all matters necessary to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal. The scheme may, inter alia, provide for establishing an authority for implementing (section 6A).

Inter-State Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC):

  • According to this bill, the State may submit a request to the Central Government about any water dispute, and the Central Government would set up a DRC to resolve the problem amicably.
  • The DRC will be led by a Chairperson and comprise experts from relevant sectors with at least 15 years of experience, all of whom will be appointed by the Union Government.
  • It will also have one delegate from the state in question.
  • Within a year, the DRC will aim to settle the problem through negotiations. This time frame can be extended for another six months.
  • It will present its findings to the federal government.
  • The Union Government will refer the dispute to the Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunal if the DRC fails to resolve the issue through mediation within the prescribed time frame.
  • This would be done within the 3 months after receiving the report from the DRC.
  • Tribunal’s Decision:
  1. The Union Government is mandated by the Act to publish the Tribunal’s decision in the Official Gazette. The bill aims to avoid such publications from occurring. The bill has been amended to state that the Bench’s decision would be definitive and binding on all parties involved in the conflict.
  2. The Act requires the Central Government to formulate a proposal to carry out the Tribunal’s decision. The Bill is making it mandatory to make such a scheme.

Various obstacles faced by Union Government in the issue-

  • Interstate River Water Dispute Tribunal under Article 262 cannot be set up suo motu and the concerned states are not willing to set up one.
  • Water is a state subject and the Union Government can intervene only in case of inter-state rivers (By enabling Entry 56 in Union List).

In this situation, Union Government can take the following measures to expedite the resolution of the issue:

  • Provide funding to Empowered Committees set up by the Supreme Court (eg: Justice A S Anand Committee)
  • Bring the issue in the Inter State Councils or Zonal Councils for discussion.
  • Assist in construction of a new dam in the light of safety concerns and chart out an agreement for fair sharing of water to meet TN’s needs.
  • Rehabilitation of affected people in case of increase in height of the dam.


Looking at the dispute that takes place between two states i.e. Tamil Nadu and Kerala and a procedure to resolve those disputes that is by the way of tribunals which look into the disputes according to their jurisdiction and there is also an act which deals with the interstate water dispute but, looking at the way and time consumption it can be observed that the dispute take lot of time to get resolved as result of that it is the states who have to suffer for that in their daily matters related to water like development and meeting all the basic needs, which ultimately results in hindrance in the development of the state.

Mains oriented question:
Examine why the Mullaperiyar dam has been a thorn in the side of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Examine whether the union government can assist in resolving this issue. (250 words)