Rajya Sabha passes Dam Safety Bill, took 34 long years to draft

All this is now ready to change as the Rajya Sabha on Thursday has passed the Dam Safety Bill, 2019. On 2nd August 2019, the Lok Sabha had already passed the bill.

Rajya Sabhapasses Dam Safety Bill, took 34 long years to draft

After the US and China, India may rank 3rd in the world, when it comes to possessing huge dams, but the nation had dam safety legislation for more than 70 years now.

All this is now ready to change as the Rajya Sabha on Thursday has passed the Dam Safety Bill, 2019. On 2nd August 2019, the Lok Sabha had already passed the bill.

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According to the data available of 2019 with the National Register of Large Dams, there are at present 5,745 large dams in the country, of which 293 dams are 100 years old. Also, 1,041 dams are almost between 50 and 100 years old.

According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), “the ageing of dam assets warrants serious concern on their safety aspects in terms of meeting prevalent norms.” Ageing dams can also be a cause of concern for people who lives in the areas nearby.

“Safety of dams is important for safeguarding huge public investment in critical physical infrastructure, as well as for ensuring continuity of benefits derived from dam projects and national water security,” the CWC has stated in an internal note accessed by ThePrint.

It is also significant in the growing scenarios of the nation’s water crisis, linked with the growing population and even climate change, the CWC has stated.

It was to state these issues that the government had decided way back in 1987 to draft the nation’s first dam safety law.

For the last 34 years the Dam Safety bill has been in the preparation. It has gone through various backs and forths since then. It was firstly presented in the Lok Sabha for the very first time in 2020 August but was taken away following many changes decided by the standing committee where it was stated.

A modified bill was presented but it expired after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. The bill was presented afresh again in 2019 in the lower house.

The need of dam safety law

Presenting the bill in the Lok Sabha in August 2019, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat who is the union Jal minister had stated that several 40 dams have collapsed since independence in India.

In 1976 one of the worst disasters had taken place in Gujrat when the Machhu dam had collapsed which resulted in the loss of many lives.

After the disaster, many states and public sector undertakings (PSUs) that have damns in the nation set up their own DSOs (dam safety organizations) and have taken up several measures for making sure that dam safety if there in their respective jurisdictions.

Approx. 18 states and 5 dam-owning organizations: National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, Bhakra Beas Management Board, Damodar Valley Corporation, Kerala State Electricity Board and Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam- have made their own DSOs.

However, as the central law is absent, the safety rules and regulations depend on state to state.

Centre legislating on water

The Centre has got the legislation under Article 246 of the Constitution read with Entry 56 and Entry 97 Of List I in the Union list, even though water is under the list of the state.

Article 246 entitles Parliament to legislate on any matter listed in List I of the Union list in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Entry 56 permits Parliament to make laws on the framework of inter-state rivers and even river valleys if it declares such framework to be convenient in public interest. Entry 97 permits Parliament to legislate on any other matter not listed in List II and List III which includes any tax which is not mentioned in either of the Lists.

Many opposition MPs blatantly opposed the proposed legislation during the debate on the bill, which they stated encroaches on the rights of the states.

Shaktisinh Gohil of the Congress stated that 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 stated.

Many other leaders which include those from the RJD, MDMK, TDP, TMC also opposed the bill, on the area that it shall put water and dam management under the control of the state. Several opposition MPs even asked that the bill be sent to the select committee for scrutiny.

The work of the dam safety bill

The bill supplies for “surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of the specified dam for prevention of dam failure related disaster” and even provides provision for “institutional mechanisms to ensure their safe functioning”.

There will be 4 layers of monitoring: 2 at the central level and 2 at the state level to ensure the safety of dam.

A National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) will be made at the central level, which will be led by CWC chairman, and even 10 representatives of central government not lower than the rank of joint secretary who is nominated by the Centre, and seven representatives of state government.

A National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) will even be made within a period of 60 days that will provide as a tool to make policy, guidelines and standards evolved by NCDS. Any decision that is taken by the NDSA will be binding upon all the parties.

Each state government will make a State Dam Safety Organization (SDSO) at the state level which will be constituted within a period of 180 days.

The SDSO will keep everlasting surveillance, carry out inspections and monitor the operation and preservation of specified dams falling under their jurisdiction. States will even have to constitute a State Committee on Dam Safety.

The bill shall cover all the dams constructed before or after the beginning of this Act, which are above 15 metres in height, measured from the lowest portion of the general foundation area to the top of the dam, or even between 10 metres and 15 metres in height and provides for at least one of the following: The length of the crest is not less than 500 m, the capacity of the reservoir formed by the dam is not less than 1 MCM (million cubic metre), the maximum flood discharge dealt with by the dam is not less than 2,000 cumec (cubic metre per second), or the dam has specially difficult foundation problems or the dam is of unusual design.

The Bill gives for firm penalties in case of violations. If any individual is seen obstructing any employee or officer of the central government or person elected by the National Committee or Authority or the state committee or the SDSO in discharge of functions under this Act, or do not accept to comply with any direction given by them, shall have to face a maximum of two years jail, or a monetary penalty, or both.

Actions will even be taken if the violation is committed by a government official, corporate or company, officials of the company.

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Rajya Sabha passes Dam Safety Bill, took 34 long years to draft
All this is now ready to change as the Rajya Sabha on Thursday has passed the Dam Safety Bill, 2019. On 2nd August 2019, the Lok Sabha had already passed the bill.
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