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Dam Safety Bill, 2018

  • 09 Jan 2019
  • 8 min read

Why in News?

  • The Dam Safety Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 12, 2018.

Need for Dam Safety

  • There is need for regulatory structure to ensure dam safety. Out of the 5,060 completed large dams, over 87 per cent are more than 20 years old and about 370 are over 70 years old.
  • Even newer dams are known to suffer both structural and operational failures.
  • There has been a lack of a uniform law and an administrative regime for dam safety thus there is need for uniform regulatory structure to ensure dam safety.
  • There is need for an overarching umbrella authority to smoothen interstate disputes over dams e.g. Mullaperiyar Dam has been in news for contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments. Kerala has argued that the dam having outlived its life of 50 years is unsafe to maintain water at the full reservoir level.

Introduction

  • The Bill aims to provide legal and institutional framework for safety of dams to prevent disasters through proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all dams in the country.
  • The Bill also provides for the institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams.

Key Provisions of the Bill

  • Applicability of the Bill: The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country with:
    • Height more than 15 metres
    • Height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions.
  • National Committee on Dam Safety:
    • The Bill provides for the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety.
    • The Committee will be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission.
    • All other members will be nominated by the central government.
    • Functions of the Committee include:
      • Formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures.
      • Analysing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.
  • National Dam Safety Authority: The Bill provides for a National Dam Safety Authority.
    • Its functions 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, and
      • Providing accreditation to agencies working on construction, design, and alteration of dams.
  • State Dam Safety Organisation:
    • The Bill provides for the establishment of SDSOs by the state governments.
    • All specified dams situated in a state will fall under the jurisdiction of that state’s SDSO.
    • In certain cases the National Dam Safety Authority will act as the SDSO.
    • Functions of the SDSOs include:
      • Keeping perpetual surveillance, inspecting, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams,
      • Keeping a database of all dams
      • Recommending safety measures to owners of dams.
  • State Committee on Dam Safety: The Bill provides for the constitution of State Committees on Dam Safety by the state governments.
    • Functions of the Committee include:
      • Reviewing the work of the SDSO.
      • Ordering dam safety investigations.
      • Recommending dam safety measures and reviewing the progress on such measures.
      • Assessing the potential impact on upstream and downstream states. These states will also have their representatives on the State Committee.
  • Obligations of dam owners: The Bill requires the owners of specified dams to provide a dam safety unit in each dam. This unit will inspect the dams:
    • Before and after the monsoon season.
    • During and after every earthquake, flood, or any other calamity or sign of distress.
    • Dam owners will be required to prepare an emergency action plan, and carry out risk assessment studies at specified regular intervals.
    • Dam owners will also be required to prepare a comprehensive dam safety evaluation of each dam at regular intervals.
    • The evaluation will be mandatory in certain cases such as major modification of the original structure, or an extreme hydrological or seismic event.
  • Offences and penalties: The Bill provides for two types of offences.
    • Obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions.
    • Refusing to comply with directions issued under the Bill.

Offenders will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine, or both. If the offence leads to loss of lives, the term of imprisonment may be extended up to two years.

Challenges/Limitations

  • Certain states have put a question mark over the legislative competence of the Centre in violation of federal spirit of constitution.
  • Tamil Nadu has opposed it, fearing that the dams owned and operated by it would come under the purview of the National Dam Safety Organisation (NDSO) and that Kerala would also get access to the dam and information about it.
  • States fear that the Centre may take control over their dams.
  • There is lack of sufficient consultation with the States on the Bill due to which States see Dam Safety Bill, 2018 with suspicion, as is already happening.
  • It is too focused on the structural safety of dams, not so much on their operational safety. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report on the Chennai floods of 2015 clearly points to operational failures.
  • There is no provision for compensation to the victims of dam failures, which was a key recommendation of the June 2011 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (15th Lok Sabha) on Dam Safety Bill, 2010.
  • Bill does not define the stakeholders of Dam Safety, even though the term ‘stakeholder’ is used in the Dam Safety Bill, 2018.

Conclusion

  • Dam Safety Bill, 2018 is much needed legislation to ensure the safety of man and materials in the downstream areas of dam.
  • The bill is critical adaptive measure in context of climate change, as extreme weather events like floods are expected to increase e.g. recent Kerala floods are attributed to climate change.
  • There is need for wider consultation with states in spirit of cooperative federalism, to allay the concerns of states. Objections by states should be addressed to ensure the legislation secure its aim without centre and states conflicts.
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