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Rajya Sabha passes Dam Safety Bill (2019)


During the debate on the Bill on Thursday, several Opposition MPs vociferously opposed the proposed legislation, which they said encroaches on the states’ rights

TFM Desk

The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the landmark Dam Safety Bill (2019), paving the way for enactment of the Dam Safety Act in the country.

The Union Minister of Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had introduced the bill in Rajya Sabha on December 1, 2021. The Dam Safety Bill (2019) was passed by the Lok Sabha on  August 2, 2019, according to official sources.

After China and USA, India is the 3rd largest dam-owning nation in the world. There are around 5,700 large dams in the country, of which about 80% are already over 25 years old. Nearly 227 dams that are over 100 years old are still functional. Although India’s track record of dam safety is at par with that of the developed nations, there have been unwarranted maintenance issues.

The Dam Safety Bill provides for adequate surveillance, maintenance of all the large dams in the country so as to prevent dam failure related disasters. The Bill provides for an institutional mechanism at both Central and State levels to address structural and non-structural measures required for ensuring the safe functioning of dams.

As per the provision of the Bill, a National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) will be constituted to help evolve uniform dam safety policies, protocols, and procedures. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) as a regulatory body for ensuring the nationwide implementation of dam safety policies and standards.

At the State level, the Bill prescribes for the constitution of State Committees on Dam Safety (SCDS) and the establishment of the State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO).

The Dam Safety Bill also addresses, in a comprehensive manner, critical concerns related to dam safety on account of emerging climate change related challenges. This Bill provides for regular inspection and hazard classification of dams. It also provides for drawing up of emergency action plans and comprehensive dam safety reviews by an independent panel of experts. There is provision for an emergency flood warning system to address the safety concerns of downstream inhabitants.

Through this Bill the Dam owners are required to provide resources for timely repair and maintenance of the dam structure, along with related machinery.

This Bill looks at Dam Safety holistically and provides for not only structural aspects, but also operational and maintenance efficacy through prescription of strict O & M protocols.

This Bill has penal provisions, involving offences and penalties, for ensuring compliance of the provisions.

Definite timelines have been provided in the Bill for the establishment of a robust institutional framework, with the support of both the Centre and the states.

The Bill also focuses on implementation of mandatory dam safety actions by the dam owners within a defined timeline. The passage of this Bill heralds a new era of dam safety and water resources management in India.

Though water is under the state list, the Centre has brought the legislation under Article 246 of the Constitution read with Entry 56 and Entry 97 Of List I in the Union list, according to The Print.

Article 246 empowers Parliament to legislate on any matter enumerated in List I of the Union list in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Entry 56 allows Parliament to make laws on the regulation of inter-state rivers and river valleys if it declares such regulation to be expedient in public interest. Entry 97 allows Parliament to legislate on any other matter not enumerated in List II or List III including any tax not mentioned in either of those Lists.

During the debate on the Bill on Thursday, several Opposition MPs vociferously opposed the proposed legislation, which they said encroaches on the states’ rights.

The Congress’ Shaktisinh Gohil said the Bill is unconstitutional and ultra vires as water comes under the state list. “By bringing this law, the Centre is encroaching on states’ jurisdiction,” he said.

Several other leaders including those from the RJD, MDMK, TDP, TMC also opposed the Bill, on the grounds that it will put water and dam management under the Centre’s control. Many opposition MPs also demanded that the Bill be sent to the select committee for further scrutiny.

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