Rajya Sabha Passes Dam Safety Bill to prevent disasters, which took 34 years to draft.

India might stand third in the world, after the US and China, when it comes to owning large dams but the country has not had dam safety legislation for over 70 years now. 

All this is now set to change with the Rajya Sabha passing the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, Thursday. The Lok Sabha had formerly passed the bill on 2 August 2019. 

According to 2019 data available with the National Register of Large Dams, there are presently large dams in India, of which 293 are over 100 years old. Either, dams are 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 may also serve as a cause of concern for people living in the areas nearby. 

Dam Safety bill passed in parliament

“ Safety of dams is important for safeguarding the 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 said in an internal note accessed by ThePrint. 

The Dam Safety bill has been in the making for the last 34 years. It has gone through several back and forths since also. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha for the first time in August 2010 but was withdrawn following several changes recommended by the standing committee where it was referred. 

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

Why is a dam safety law needed? 

Introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha in August 2019, It was said that some 40 dams have collapsed in India since Independence. 

One of the worst disasters that took place in Gujarat was in 1979 when the Machhu dam collapsed that result in the loss of thousands of lives. 

Following the disaster, many states and public sector undertakings (PSUs) that enjoy dams in the country set up their own dam safety organisations (DSOs), and have taken up significant measures for ensuring dam safety in their respective jurisdictions. 

How is the Centre legislating on water, a subject under the state list? 

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. 

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 the public interest. Entry 97 allows Parliament to legislate on any other matter that is not enumerated in List II or List III including any tax not mentioned in either of those Lists. 

 What will the dam safety bill do? 

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

There will be four layers of monitoring — two at the central level and two at the state level — to ensure the safety of dams. 

A National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) will be set up at the central level, which will be headed by the CWC chairman, and include 10 representatives of central government not below the rank of joint secretary, which will be nominated by the Centre, and seven representatives of state government. 

A National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) shall also be established within a period of 60 days, which will implement policy, guidelines and standards developed by NCDs. Any decision taken by the NDSA shall be binding upon all the stakeholders. 

At the state level, each state government shall establish a State Dam Safety Organisation (SDSO), which shall be constituted within a period of 180 days. 

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

The bill provides for stringent penalties in case of violations. However, or refuses to comply with any direction given by them, shall face a maximum of two years jail If anybody is found obstructing any officer or employee of the central government or the state government or person authorised by National Committee or Authority or the state committee or the SDSO in the discharge of functions under this Act. 

Action will also be taken if the offence is committed by a government or government official, company or corporate, officials of the company. 

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