Opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha have expressed deep reservations about the Centre’s decision to introduce the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, asserting that the legislation, which is ostensibly aimed at providing uniform safety measures across the country, would undermine the powers of State governments since water is a State subject.
The bill is too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.
There is inadequate compensation to the people affected by dams.
There is need for an independent regulator as well as for a precise definition of stakeholders.
Many states say it encroaches upon the sovereignty of States to manage their dams, and violates the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. They see it as an attempt by the Centre to consolidate power in the guise of safety concerns.
Why Centre is introducing this Bill?
Though the subject does not fall under the purview of Parliament, the Centre has decided to introduce this bill mainly because dam safety is an issue of concern in the country. And there are no legal and institutional safeguards in this regard.
Highlights of Dam Safety Bill, 2019:
The Bill provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.
The Bill provides for constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.
The Bill provides for establishment of National Dam Safety Authorityas a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.
The Bill provides for constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by State Government.
The Bill will help all the States and Union Territories of India to adopt uniform dam safety procedures which shall ensure safety of dams and safeguard benefits from such dams. This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
It addresses all issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals. It lays onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for commission and omission of certain acts.
Over the last fifty years, India has invested substantially in dams and related infrastructures, and ranks third after USA and China in the number of large dams. 5254 large dams are in operation in the country currently and another 447 are under construction. In addition to this, there are thousands of medium and small dams.
While dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural growth and development in India, there has been a long felt need for a uniform law and administrative structure for ensuring dam safety.
The Central Water Commission, through the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO) and State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO) has been making constant endeavours in this direction, but these organizations do not have any statutory powers and are only advisory in nature.
This can be a matter of concern, especially since about 75 percent of the large dams in India are more than 25 years old and about 164 dams are more than 100 years old. A badly maintained, unsafe dam can be a hazard to human life, flora and fauna, public and private assets and the environment.
India has had 36 dam failures in the past.