Dam Safety Bill 2018 introduced in Lok Sabha

The Dam Safety Bill, 2018 has been introduced in Lok Sabha in December, 2018. This bill aims to provide for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of specified dams across the country.  The Bill also provides for the institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of the dams.

Features of the Dam Safety Bill 2018

  • The Bill applies to all specified dams. The specifications of dam for which the bill is applicable are
    • Height more than 15 metres, or
    • Height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions.
  • The bill provides for setting up of a National Committee on Dam Safety.  The National Committee on Dam Safety would be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission. The other members of the committee would be nominated by the central government, and include up to 10 representatives of the central government, up to seven representatives of the state governments (by rotation), and up to three dam safety experts.
  • The National Committee on Dam Safety would be entrusted with formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures, and analysing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.
  • The bill provides for a National Dam Safety Authority headed by an officer not below the rank of an Additional Secretary who will be appointed by the central government. The functions of the Authority include:
    • Implementing the policies formulated by the National Committee on Dam Safety.
    • Resolving issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or between a SDSO and any dam owner in that state.
    • Specifying regulations for inspection and investigation of dams.
    • Providing accreditation to agencies working on construction, design, and alteration of dams.
  • The bill also provides for the establishment of State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs) by the state governments. The bill states that dams situated in a state will fall under the jurisdiction of that state’s SDSO.
  • The bill lists the cases in which the National Dam Safety Authority will act as the SDSO. It includes:
    • Wherein the dam is owned by one state but situated in another state.
    • Wherein the dam extends over multiple states.
    • Wherein the dam is owned by a central public sector undertaking.
  • The Bill also provides for the constitution of State Committees on Dam Safety by the state governments to review the work of the SDSO, ordering dam safety investigations, recommending dam safety measures and reviewing the progress on such measures, and assessing the potential impact on upstream and downstream states
  • The functions of the National Committee on Dam Safety, the National Dam Safety Authority, and the State Committees on Dam Safety have been provided in Schedules to the Bill.  The Bill also specifies that the central government can amend these Schedules through a notification, if deemed necessary.
  • The Bill requires the owners of specified dams to provide a dam safety unit in each dam.
  • The Bill provides penalties for obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions, and refusing to comply with directions issued under the Bill.

Why the bill is opposed?

The governments of Tamil Nadu and Odhisa have been opposing the bill. The concerns against the bill are:

  • The bill compromises the rights of States like Tamil Nadu on the issues of control and maintenance of dams located in neighbouring States since the National Dam Safety Authority would act as Dam safety organisation for the dams like Mullaiperiyar, Parambikulam, Thunakkadavu and Peruvaripallam dams which are owned and operated by Tamil Nadu but are located in different states.
  • The State Governments also argue that the bill violates the federal political system as the subject comes under the purview of State governments and not in the purview of the Lok Sabha or Parliament.

Why the Central Government is going ahead?

The Central Government argues that the Constitution authorises the central government to legislate on state subjects when two or more States agree. Hence the Central Government has the legislative competency to introduce the Bill. The Central Government further argues that there are over 5,200 large dams in India and about 450 are under construction together with thousands of medium and small dams. The lack of legal and institutional safeguards has made dam safety an issue of concern in the country. The bill is an attempt to address this concern.




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