Explained: Why Modi govt is keen to pass Dam Safety Bill and what it will change

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Published: July 20, 2019 8:51:25 AM

Dam Safety Bill 2019: The country has over 5,200 large dams. While some dams are located in a state but are owned by some other state without any fix responsibility for their maintenance.

dam safety bill, central water commission, national committee on dam safetyDam Safety Bill: Modi government is keen to pass a nationwide dam safety law.

Dam Safety Bill: Prime Minister Modi’s government is keen to finish the long term reform agenda in this term that it could not accomplish during its first tenure. One such issue with long term implication is to ensure the safety of over 5,000 dams in the country as some of them are in bad shape. Breach of Tiware Dam in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra early this month underlined the magnitude of the problem. 18 people were killed in the flash flood caused by the Tiware dam burst which is located between Koyna and Vashishti river in the state.

Given the urgency, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the dam safety bill, 2019 on Thursday. Modi government was not able to pass the bill in the 16th Lok Sabha, however, given the huge mandate in the 17th Lok Sabha and improved party position of the NDA in the Rajya Sabha, the government is hopeful that it will be able to see get it passed this time.

What is Dam Safety Bill?

As per the latest official data, the country has 5,264 large dams in the country while 437 dams are under construction. In addition to these dams, there are thousands of other small and medium dams in the country. Of the total large dams, 293 dams are more than 100 years old and 1,041 dams are more than 50 years old.

In the absence of a proper legal framework, safety and maintenance of these large number of dams are a cause of concern. The dam safety bill, 2019 provides for proper monitoring inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country.

Dam Safety Bill 2019 provides for a national committee on dam safety and national dam safety authority. At present both these authorities exist under the central water commission (CWC), however, they lack a legal mechanism to enforce their orders.

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Why the Centre could not pass the bill earlier?

The concept of a nationwide dam safety bill was mooted in 1980s. A panel was formed under the chairmanship of central water commission in 1982 which gave its report in 1986. A draft dam safety bill was circulated to states in 2002. Bihar was the first state to pass a Dam Safety Act in 2006. In 2007, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal assemblies passed resolutions empowering Parliament to pass a dam safety bill.

In August 2010, dam safety bill was introduced in Parliament and was referred to a standing committee which gave its report the next year. However, it could not be passed in the 15th Lok Sabha and lapsed with its dissolution.

Article 252 of the Constitution requires a resolution from two or more states for enacting a law by Parliament on a subject which is in the state list. Andhra Pradesh re-organisation act of 2014 divided the state in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. After the bifurcation, neither Telangana nor Andhra Pradesh assembly endorsed the resolution passed by erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 2007, asking the parliament to enact a national dam safety law.

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Instead of asking a BJP ruled state to pass such a resolution, in its first term Modi government obtained the opinion of solicitor general of India on the issue, and he supported the move as constitutionally valid under Article 246 of the Constitution. The Union government drafted a fresh dam safety law in May 2017 and it was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2018, at the fag end of Prime Minister Modi’s first tenure. But it could not be passed and lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in May this year.

What the Dam Safety Law will change?

Dam Safety Bill, 2019 provides for proper monitoring, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country. It will create a national committee on dam safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and necessary regulations. It will also create a national dam safety authority as a regulator to implement policy, guidelines, and standards for dam safety. It will maintain and publish data of all dams and resolve inter-state disputes. It will also fix the accountability of dam maintenance with penal provisions.

The bill will also create dam safety committees and dam safety organisations at state level with specialist officers.

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