New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court today termed unconstitutional a Kerala law passed to circumvent a 2006 ruling in a dam dispute with Tamil Nadu, saying “the legislature cannot neutralise the effect of a judgment given after ascertainment of facts”.
“A decision which disposes of the matter by giving findings upon the facts is not open to change by (the) legislature. A final judgment, once rendered, operates and remains in force until altered by the court,” a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha said.
The court allowed Tamil Nadu to increase the water level of the Mullaperiyar dam to 142ft. The Kerala law had tagged the 120-year-structure “unsafe” and fixed the water level at a maximum of 136ft.
Kerala had passed the law within three weeks of a 2006 ruling which rejected the state’s claims that the dam faced imminent collapse, posing a threat to people, and asked it not to interfere with the rights of Tamil Nadu.
Today, the court junked the law, saying “once a judicial decision of a particular fact achieves finality, the legislature cannot reopen such a final judgment directly or indirectly”, only courts could.
“In such cases, the courts may reopen such cases in exercise of their own discretion. It is true that the safety of dam is an aspect which can change from time to time in different circumstances but then the circumstances have to be shown based on which it becomes necessary to make departure from the earlier finding.”
The bench explained today’s ruling in the context of federal disputes such as the one at hand. “In federal disputes, the legislature (Parliament and state legislatures) cannot be a judge in their own cause in case of any dispute with another state. The rule of law, the basic feature of our Constitution, forbids the Union and the states from deciding by law a dispute between two states or between the Union and one or more states,” the bench said.
The row over the dam, situated in Kerala but owned and operated by the Tamil Nadu government, goes back over a decade. It has become an emotive issue with parties from the two states frequently sparring over it.
While the court scrapped the law — the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006 — it sought to address safety concerns by setting up a three-member committee with a representative each from the two states and the Central Water Commission.
Tamil Nadu welcomed the judgment, with chief minister J. Jayalalithaa terming it a “historic victory”. Kerala’s Congress-led government said it would explore further legal options after studying the order.