Dam Safety Bill

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Dam Safety Bill

  • More than two years after Lok Sabha passed the Dam Safety Bill, the legislation on Thursday sailed through in Rajya Sabha despite strong objections from opposition parties, particularly the Congress, TMC, RJD, DMK and the Left parties.
  • The Opposition claimed that the Bill encroaches into the domain of states and demanded that it be referred to a select committee.

About The Dam Safety Bill, 2019:

  • The Bill provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all specified dams across the country.
  • These are dams with height more than 15 metres, or height between 10 metres to 15 metres with certain design and structural conditions.
  • It constitutes two state bodies: State Committee on Dam Safety, and State Dam Safety Organisation.
  • These bodies will be responsible for the surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams within their jurisdiction.

National Bodies constituted under bill:

  • the National Committee on Dam Safety:its functions is to evolve policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety standards; and
  • the National Dam Safety Authority:its function is to implement policies of the National Committee, providing technical assistance to State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), and resolving matters between SDSOs of states or between a SDSO and any dam owner in that state.

Key features of the bill:

  • The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country.
  • These are dams with: (i) height more than 15 metres, or (ii) height between 10 metres to 15 metres and satisfying certain additional design conditions such as, reservoir capacity of at least one million cubic meter, and length of top of the dam at least 500 metres.

Issues with the bill:

  • The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country.
  • This includes dams built on both inter and intra state rivers.
  • As per the Constitution, states can make laws on water including water storage and water power.
  • However, Parliament may regulate and develop inter-state river valleys if it deems it necessary in public interest.
  • The question is whether Parliament has the jurisdiction to regulate dams on rivers flowing entirely within a state.
  • The functions of the National Committee on Dam Safety, the National Dam Safety Authority, and the State Committee on Dam Safety are listed in Schedules to the Bill.
  • These Schedules can be amended by the government through a notification.
  • The question is whether core functions of authorities should be amended through a notification or whether such amendments should be passed by Parliament.

Obligation of dam owners:

  • Dam owners will be responsible for the safe construction, operation, maintenance and supervision of a dam.
  • They must provide a dam safety unit in each dam.
  • This unit will inspect the dams: (i) before and after monsoon season, and (ii) during and after every earthquake, flood, calamity, or any sign of distress.

Functions of dam owners:

  1. preparing an emergency action plan,
  2. carrying out risk assessment studies at specified regular intervals, and
  3. preparing a comprehensive dam safety evaluation through a panel of experts.

Offences and penalties:

  • Anyone obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions under the Bill or refusing to comply with directions may be imprisoned for a year.
  • In case of loss of life, the person may be imprisoned for two years.