SC blow to Kerala with Mullaperiyar dam area survey order

After Kerala’s forest department tasted success from green tribunal for the mega car parking facility outside the Periyar Tiger Reserve in 2017, apparent torpor of the Water Resources Department has seen the apex court order survey of the 1886 Mullaperiyar lease area.
Mullaperiyar dam
Mullaperiyar dam
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court


Kochi | Sheer callousness by the Kerala Government might prove detrimental to the wildlife management plans of the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in the light of the Supreme Court directive on Tuesday for a survey to determine the extent of property of the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement of 1886. The order is on Tamil Nadu moving the Supreme Court against Kerala’s construction of a mega car park outside the PTR, allegedly on encroached property.

The Kerala Forest Department earned a favourable verdict from the National Green Tribunal in 2017 after an initial stay in 2014 on the construction of the car parking facility at Anavachal as an integral component of the wildlife management plan. Concerted efforts of the Kerala forest department helped it earn the 2017 NGT verdict to proceed with the construction whose primary objective was to restrict private vehicles carrying tourists from entering the reserve.

This was challenged by Tamil Nadu in the Supreme Court which after hearing the Kerala forest department ruled that permanent structures should not be put up, and this has been strictly followed.

Initially from 2017, PTR utilized vehicles from the Eravikulam National Park to transport tourists into the heartland of the reserve. Subsequently, it acquired its own fleet of vehicles. This move has resulted in substantial transformations within the reserve area, reflecting a strategic shift in the management and accessibility of the reserve for visitors.

During this period, Tamil Nadu consolidated the legal issue, which was originally pending before the court, with water resources considerations. Government sources acknowledge that it was the responsibility of the Water Resources Ministry to effectively contend with the matter in court. Unfortunately, the Kerala Ministry's delay in taking decisive action in the legal proceedings led to the Supreme Court's directive for a survey, with a prescribed completion timeline of three months.

The genesis of this issue can be traced back to 2014 when the Tamil Nadu Government voiced its objections to Kerala's plan of establishing a parking facility outside the reserve. Tamil Nadu argued that the construction encroached upon land covered by the 1886 lease agreement and fell within the Mullaperiyar catchment area.

According to the court order, the Survey of India will “carry out the exercise of determining the precise area or property covered by the lease deed and then ascertain whether the construction of the mega car park has been made in the leased area”.

Despite concerted efforts to find a resolution through negotiations since 2017, prompted by a Supreme Court directive for an amicable solution within six weeks, the endeavours have proven unsuccessful, resulting in the current court order.

The contentious lease agreement, forged in 1886 between the former princely State of Travancore and the Madras Presidency, involved the leasing of specific territories from Travancore. Upon the conclusion of the initial 999-year term, the Kerala Government, quite surprisingly, chose to renew it. The Mullaperiyar Dam, aged over a century and owned by Kerala, with its waters allocated for Tamil Nadu, has effectively surpassed its intended lifespan. Kerala has proposed the construction of a new dam which Tamil Nadu has staunchly opposed, adding another layer of complexity to the longstanding issue.

The agreement encompassed approximately 800 acres, incorporating the 156-ft dam area. Surprisingly, there has been no survey conducted to date, leaving the determination of boundaries pending. It remains to be seen how the boundaries will be demarcated post-survey. Since 1886, numerous alterations have occurred in wildlife regulations, implying that the lease agreement might no longer grant straightforward access to Tamil Nadu for the entire reserve but possibly limited to the dam area. Successfully asserting this perspective would be crucial for Kerala, sources said.

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