DR. JOE JOSEPH & ORS VS STATE OF TAMIL NADU & ORS. - Mullaperiyar Dam Case - Supreme Court

DR. JOE JOSEPH & ORS VS STATE OF TAMIL NADU & ORS. -  Mullaperiyar Dam Case - Supreme Court

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले

1. During the pendency of these matters, a new law has been
enacted by the Parliament titled "the Dam Safety Act, 20211
", which
has received assent of the President on 13.12.2021 and has been
notified vide gazette dated 14.12.2021. As per the note filed by
respondent No. 3, the appointed date for coming into force of the 2021
Act has been specified as 30.12.2021.
for short, “the 2021 Act”
2. The 2021 Act deals with subjects which are broadly matters in
issue in the present petitions such as surveillance, inspection,
operation and maintenance of the Mullaperiyar Dam including for
prevention of dam failure related disasters.
3. The 2021 Act predicates that multi-tier institutional mechanism
be established for providing institutional mechanism to ensure the
safe functioning of the concerned dam(s) and for matters connected
therewith or incidental thereto. Section 5 mandates constitution of
National Committee who is required to discharge functions delineated
in Section 6 of the 2021 Act. 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 Authority2
established under Section 8 of the 2021 Act. The functions of the
Authority so established have been spelt out in Section 9 of the 2021
Act. Further, by virtue of the first proviso to Section 24(1) of the Act,
the National Dam Safety Authority has also to act as the State Dam
Safety Organisation for the purposes of this Act and to perform all
duties and functions in relation to dam safety as relates the Dam in
for short, “NDSA”
4. Suffice it to observe that the sweep of the 2021 Act is very wide
and comprehensive, as it focusses on all aspects regarding the safety
of specified dams across the country, including the Mullaperiyar Dam.
It also provides for objective standards for ensuring proper
maintenance and institutional mechanism for safe functioning of the
concerned dams and for matters connected therewith.
5. As regards the Mullaperiyar Dam, this Court vide its judgment
titled as "State of Tamil Nadu Vs. State of Kerala & Anr.3 had
constituted a Supervisory Committee, consisting of three members,
namely, one representative from the Central Water Commission and
one representative each from the two States - Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
That Committee has been functioning satisfactorily since then and
discharging the task assigned to it, as mentioned in paras 229 and
230 of the reported decision.
6. However, after coming into force of the 2021 Act, a statutory
dispensation needs to be put in place. We have been informed that a
temporary structure of NDSA has been created by the Central Water
Commission (CWC) under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of
India vide letter No. T-20/2/2021-DSM DTE/158-61 dated
30.03.2022. The establishment of a regular structure in the form of
NDSA with all essential organisational and logistical facilities at its
(2014) 12 SCC 696
disposal is likely to take some more time. It would be desirable that
the regular NDSA is put in place, which can immediately take over the
task of surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of the
Mullaperiyar Dam and discharge the functions in that regard, as
specified in Section 9 of the Act, as also, exercise all enabling powers
invested in it under the 2021 Act. Until such time, we may have to
continue with the present arrangement, as specified in the reported
decision, namely, the Supervisory Committee discharging the task
assigned to it in terms of direction given by this Court. At the same
time, it may be in larger public interests to strengthen the Supervisory
Committee, both in regard to its composition, as well as, scope of its
functions to be brought in conformity with the provisions and powers
of NDSA, as specified in the 2021 Act.
7. As certain issues have been raised in the present set of writ
petitions/special leave petition/Applications, including by the locals
residing in the downstream areas of the Dam in question, 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, so that until
such time, the reconstituted Supervisory Committee would be in a
position to discharge all the functions and also exercise all the powers
which otherwise are required to be exercised by the NDSA for ensuring
safety of the Mullaperiyar Dam, as also, prevention of dam failure
related disasters.
8. For the purpose of strengthening the existing Supervisory
Committee, we also accede to the suggestions given by the partyStates that two technical experts be made part of the existing
Supervisory Committee, one each from the State of Kerala and State of
Tamil Nadu, who must be well-versed in dam management, reservoir
operation, instrumentation, etc.
9. The party-States shall nominate their technical expert(s) not later
than two weeks from today.
10. 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.
11. It is stated by the learned counsel for the State of Tamil Nadu
that there are certain pending works. It will be open for the State of
Tamil Nadu to invite attention of the reconstituted committee to those
pending works. We have no manner of doubt that the Supervisory
Committee will examine that request appropriately and take such
decision, as may be necessary.
12. In other words, until the regular NDSA becomes functional, the
Supervisory Committee, as reconstituted in terms of this order, shall
be accountable for all matters relating to safety of the Dam including
referred to in the 2021 Act and discharge the functions of NDSA
specified in Section 9 of the 2021 Act.
13. We direct the concerned Ministry of the Government of India to
extend all logistical assistance to the Supervisory Committee, to
enable it to effectively discharge its functions and to exercise powers in
terms of this order.
14. Needless to mention 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.
15. In case of any operational issues arising during the execution of
directions given by the Supervisory Committee, the Chief Secretary of
the concerned State shall be personally responsible to ensure that
every direction given by the Supervisory Committee (including of
setting apart necessary funds or providing logistical assistance) is
taken to its logical end without any exception.
16. In other words, the party-States must extend complete
cooperation for ensuring that the directions given by the Supervisory
Committee from time to time for the purpose of maintenance of the
Mullaperiyar Dam and its safety, are complied with in 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. We clarify that in absence of nomination of expert member by the
State party, the Supervisory Committee shall be free to continue to
discharge the task already assigned to it by this Court and also under
the 2021 Act.
20. As aforesaid, this is only an interim arrangement until the
“regular NDSA” under the 2021 Act becomes fully functional.
21. The matters be notified on 11.05.2022 for submitting
compliance-cum-status report by the Supervisory Committee and for
consideration of other reliefs.
22. In case of any exigency before the next date of hearing, it will be
open to the parties/Supervisory Committee to approach this Court by
way of a formal application in that regard.
New Delhi;
April 08, 2022.


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