Dam Safety Bill, 2019

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    • Recently, the Dam Safety Bill, 2019 was introduced in Rajya Sabha.

    Need

    • 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 fixed responsibility for their maintenance.
    • 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 numbers 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.

    Image Courtesy: ToI 

    About Dam Safety Bill, 2019

    • Surveillance of dams: 
      • The Bill provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all specified dams across the country. 
      • These are dams with height more than 15 metres, or height between 10 metres to 15 metres with certain design and structural conditions.
    • 2 national Bodies:
      • The National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS):
        • Its functions include evolving policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety standards; 
        • It will be chaired by the National Water Commissioner.
      • The National Dam Safety Authority:
        • Its functions include implementing policies of the National Committee, providing technical assistance to State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), and resolving matters between SDSOs of states or between a SDSO and any dam owner in that state.
    • 2 state bodies: 
      • State Committee on Dam Safety, 
      • State Dam Safety Organisation.  
      • These bodies will be responsible for the surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams within their jurisdiction.
    • Schedules of the Bill: 
      • Functions of the national bodies and the State Committees on Dam Safety have been provided in Schedules to the Bill.  
      • These Schedules can be amended by a government notification. 
    • Punishment: 
      • An offence under the Bill can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both.
    • Article 252: 
      • Dams are a State Subject.
      • 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.

    Significance

    • Responsibility: 
      • If the bill is made into a law, then dam owners will have to provide a dam safety unit in each dam. 
    • Timely inspections:
      • The dam safety unit will be required to inspect the dam before and after the monsoon session, and also during and after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
    • Emergency SOPs:
      • The bill requires dam owners to prepare emergency action plans. 
    • Research and studies: 
      • Risk-assessment studies will also have to be undertaken by owners, regularly. 
    • Proper evaluations:
      • At specified, regular intervals, and in the event of either a modification to the dam’s structure or a natural event that may impact the structure, dam owners will have to produce a comprehensive safety evaluation of the dam, with the help of a panel of experts.

    Issues in the Bill

    • Jurisdiction of the bill: 
      • The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country.  
      • This includes dams built on both inter and intra state rivers.  
      • As per the Constitution, states can make laws on water including water storage and water power
      • However, Parliament may regulate and develop inter-state river valleys if it deems it necessary in public interest.  
      • The question is whether Parliament has the jurisdiction to regulate dams on rivers flowing entirely within a state. 
    • Power to amend:
      • The functions of the National Committee on Dam Safety, the National Dam Safety Authority, and the State Committee on Dam Safety are listed in Schedules to the Bill.  
      • These Schedules can be amended by the government through a notification.  
      • The question is whether core functions of authorities should be amended through a notification or whether such amendments should be passed by Parliament.
    • State list subject: 
      • The primary objection to the bill is that water is one of the items on the State List. 
      • Oppositions claimed that  the Bill is an attempt by the Centre to appropriate the powers of the states. 
    • Chair of NCDS:
      •  The Bill states that the NCDS will be chaired by the Central Water Commissioner.
      • But the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that such a scenario is prohibited, as it involves the CWC, an advisor, functioning both as a regulator and the head of the NCDS.

    Way Ahead

    • The following functions related to Dam Safety aspects need to be strengthened:
      • New acceptability criteria need to be evolved for the present and future dams.
      • Dam safety reviews and MIS for Dams including Dam registers online databases.
      • Technology acquisitions and dissemination on Dam safety to State Govts / Organisations.
      • Dam break studies, glacial break studies and preparation of emergency Action Plans
      • Monitoring implementation of Dam Safety Legislation
      • Technology upgradation for rehabilitation of distressed dams in efficient manner
      • Setup, through legislations, State and Central Dam Safety Services

    Source: IE