Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


S. G. Sreejith


The Mullaperiyar dam dispute between the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which pertains to the safety of a 126-year-old dam, despite a ruling by the Supreme Court of India to retain the dam, keeps on reappearing before the Court in one way or other. The primary reason for such a recurrence is the fear of 4 million people of Kerala living downstream the century-old dam. Yet the Court has been reluctant to make a final settlement to the dispute and keeps on encouraging the states to find a solution through the political process.

The reluctance of the Supreme Court to deal with this issue, prompts this article to inquire into the dam jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India. The inquiry which is based on the Court’s approach to two major dam disputes in India—the Narmada dam dispute and the Tehri dam dispute—informs that the Court has been a victim of its own analytic which the Court has developed from India’s post-independent developmental ambitions.

Every time the Court sits on a dam dispute, it falls into this analytic and rules for the dam, against other submissions for the protection of environment, culture, livelihood, or even the lives of people. This article argues that if the Court wants to settle the Mullaperiyar dam dispute, it should transcend its analytic. Towards this, the article builds an alternative analytic on dams and situates the Mullaperiyar dam dispute within that analytic. The article argues that the Supreme Court is the only potential site and effective means for the settlement of the Mullaperiyar dam dispute.