The Kerala government on Tuesday said that it was firm in its decision on the construction of a new dam to replace the Mullaperiyar reservoir and a chief ministerial meeting in this regard will be held with Tamil Nadu next month, reported PTI.

In the Kerala Assembly, Power Minister K Krishnankutty said that the Left Democratic Front government has always put forward the suggestion for building a new dam aimed at ensuring the safety of life and property of the people of the state.

The Mullaperiyar dam, situated in the Idukki district on Periyar River, is 126 years old. It is managed by the Tamil Nadu government.

The two states have been caught in a dispute, as Kerala has called for a new reservoir to be constructed citing structural problems with the Mullaperiyar dam.

Tamil Nadu, which inherited a lease agreement between the former princely state of Travancore (now Kerala) and the British government, has opposed decommissioning Mullaperiyar dam. The lease allows Tamil Nadu to operate the dam and divert 640 million cubic metres of water annually for irrigation and power generation through a tunnel bored into the Western Ghat.

Kerala has also proposed that the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam should be reduced to 138 feet. Tamil Nadu, however, wants the levels to be raised to 152 feet, claiming that the Mullaperiyar dam would be able to take on the additional pressure. The Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition on the matter, had fixed the water level at 142 feet in 2014.

To build a new dam, an Environmental Impact Assessment needs to be conducted first. The Union government had given its conditional clearance for the study in November 2018.

“Based on that [the clearance], an environmental impact assessment study is progressing,” Krishnankutty said on Tuesday in response to a question asked by Congress legislator Eldose P Kunnappillil.

The minister said that the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments have held meetings earlier too to discuss the construction of a new dam but have failed to reach a consensus.

He added that the the Kerala government needs clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and permission from the Tamil Nadu government and the Supreme Court to build a new dam.

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Meanwhile, the Kerala government reiterated its stance on the need to construct a new dam in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, reported Bar and Bench.

The government told the Supreme Court that any failure in the Mullaperiyar dam could have a cascading effect on the Idukki dam situated downstream. It said that that the combined failure of the two dams will have a catastrophic impact on the lives and properties of 50 lakh people.

“The state of Kerala submits that the only permanent solution for removing the eternal threat owing to the safety concerns of the 126-year-old existing dam in Mullaperiyar and for protecting the safety of the lakhs of people living in the downstream of Mullaperiyar dam, is to build a new dam in the downstream reaches of the existing Mullaperiyar dam,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit said that the erratic rainfall, climate change and floods have caused sudden rise in the water level of the dam and urged the Supreme Court to reduce the upper permissible limit of the reservoir.

The Kerala government said that the 126-year-old dam cannot be strengthened by repeated reinforcements, reported Live Law.

“All over the world, citizens, governments and organizations have begun to review the safety of their dams as per modern standards and design criteria,” the affidavit said. “Many dams have already been dismantled or decommissioned in an attempt to allay the fears of the people living downstream and to ensure safety to their lives and properties”.

In an earlier hearing on October 25, the Supreme Court had expressed concern about the rising water level in the Mullaperiyar dam, saying that it was a matter of people’s lives.

But the court had also said that it was not a matter it could decide as it lacked expertise. It had then appointed a supervisory committee to decide on the maximum water level that can be maintained in the dam, asking it to quickly take a decision.

The committee had suggested that no change in water level is required. The Kerala government did not agree with the panel’s submission and filed the affidavit.