The Supreme Court on Friday asked two crisis management panels to explore the possibility of reducing the water level at the Mullaperiyar Dam by three feet, to deal with the devastating floods in Kerala and asked Tamil Nadu to "scrupulously obey" any decision taken on the issue.
Emphasising that the critical flood situation needed to be dealt with "focus, concentration and efficiency by all concerned", the top court said it was not an expert to deal with such unprecedented natural calamity and was leaving it to the executive to tackle the situation.
It asked the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) and a committee, set up by the top court in 2014 to manage and look after the safety and security of the dam, to coordinate with each other and explore the possibility of reducing the water level from the existing 142 feet to 139 feet.
The Mullaperiyar Dam is located on the Western Ghats near Thekkady in Idukki district of Kerala on the Periyar river.
The death toll in the monsoon fury in Kerala has crossed 167, while rains and flood water have caused extensive damage.
The rise in flood water in Periyar River due to rains and the opening of shutters of all major dams including Mullaperiyar, Cheruthoni, part of Idukki reservoir and Idamalayar, have severely affected the lives of people in the downstream areas.
During the hearing on Friday, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice DY Chandrachud said the court was not an expert to issue any guidelines to manage a situation of the present nature, which has been taken note of in its order on Thursday.
"The situation caused by the floods prevailing in the State of Kerala requires to be addressed with focus, concentration and efficiency by all concerned, both at the national and State levels," it said.
The bench suggested that the NCMC and the committee could hold consultative meetings to explore the possibility of bringing down the water level to at least 139 feet.
It said the meeting should also consider steps to be taken while releasing water from the dam to ensure that the inhabitants downstream are not affected.
The bench asked the Kerala Chief Secretary to file an affidavit to show the steps they have been taken to meet the needs of disaster management, rescue operations and rehabilitation.
"That apart, the National Crisis Management Committee is at liberty to issue instructions to the State of Kerala as regards rescue operation/ rehabilitation and such measures, the State of Kerala, shall unhesitatingly take. The decision taken with regard to bringing down of the water level shall be scrupulously obeyed by the State of Tamil Nadu," the bench said.
Senior advocate Hiren Raval, appearing for Kerala, said the rescue operation and rehabilitation of the people was being taken up with immense efforts by the state government.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, representing Tamil Nadu, said the state cannot store the water anywhere as all storage facilities were full.
Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, appearing for Centre, said that a sub-committee constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat was constantly overseeing the real- time water level as part of disaster management efforts.
At the outset, Narasimha said that all efforts have been made by the Centre to involve Kerala and Tamil Nadu to deal with the calamity. He sought time to file the report on the outcome of the meeting between NCMC and the sub-committee.
Advocate Manoj V George, appearing for petitioner Russel Joy, said the management of the Mullaperiyar Dam should be entrusted to the NCMC as it is a multi-functional body having experts from various departments.
"Till the situation returns to normal, the management of the dam should be entrusted to NCMC, as the existing court-appointed committee has not functioned properly," he alleged.
The bench said it would not like to go into the debate at present and listed the matter for further hearing on August 24.
While taking note of the grave flood situation in Kerala on Thursday, the apex court had ordered the disaster management panel of the Mullaperiyar Dam to urgently decide on lowering the water level of the dam.
The direction to consider reducing the water level up to 139 feet from the existing 142 feet had come in the backdrop of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan writing to his Tamil Nadu counterpart E K Palaniswami seeking lowering of the water-level in the Mullaperiyar dam in the interest of its safety.
The top court had said the committee may suggest measures before releasing water in the downstream areas to handle the disaster so that the people are not hit by "the catastrophe of the flood".
Tamil Nadu government had opposed the plea with regard to bringing down the water level in the dam, saying the current inflow of water into the dam was 20,000 cusecs and due to rains, it may not be possible to reduce water level immediately.