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Dam Safety Act will bring in unified policies

Context:

The Dam Safety Bill 2021 was moved in the Rajya Sabha but the debate could not be held because of disruptions from the Opposition parties.

Relevance:

GS-II: Governance (Government Policies and Initiatives, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of the policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Need for the Dam Safety Bill 2021
  2. The Dam Safety Bill 2021
  3. Provisions of the Dam Safety Bill 2021
  4. How does Bill change the functioning of dams?
  5. Issues with bill

Need for the Dam Safety Bill 2021

  • 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 42 dam failures in the past.

The Dam Safety Bill 2021

  • The Bill provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of dams to prevent disasters, and institutional mechanisms to ensure safety.
  • It applies to over 5,000 dams across the country, many of which are currently in poor conditions.
  • It has been met with significant opposition, particularly from several states that claim the bill oversteps the Centre’s mandate.

Which dams are covered?

  • All dams in India with a height above 15 metres come under the purview of the bill.
  • Dams between 10 to 15 metres of height are also covered but only if they meet certain other specifications in terms of design and structural conditions.

Provisions of the Dam Safety Bill 2021

National Committee on Dam Safety

  • The Bill provides for the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) which is to be chaired by the Central Water Commissioner (CWC).
  • The other members of the NCDS will be nominated by the Centre and will include up to 10 representatives of the Centre, 7 state government representatives, and 3 experts on dam safety.
  • The NCDS is to formulate policies for dam safety and to prevent dam failures.
  • In the event of a dam failure, the NCDS will analyse why the failure occurred, and suggest changes in dam safety practices to ensure there aren’t any repetitions.

National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA)

  • The bill provides for the formation of a NDSA which will be responsible for implementing the policies of the NCDS, and will resolve issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (or SDSOs) and dam owners.
  • The NDSA will also specify regulations for the inspection of dams and will provide accreditation to the various agencies working on the structure of dams and their alteration.

State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs)

  • The bill will also result in the establishment of SDSOs, and State Committees on Dam Safety (SCDSs).
  • The jurisdiction of the SDSOs will extend to all dams in that specific state.

Cross jurisdictions

  • The NDSA will, in some cases, possess this jurisdiction, for example, if a dam owned by one state is situated in another or crosses multiple states, or if a dam is owned by a central public sector undertaking.
  • SDSOs will be in charge of scrutinizing dams under their jurisdiction and maintaining a database of the same.
  • The SCDS will review the work of the SDSO, and will also have to assess the impact of dam-related projects on upstream and downstream states.
  • The bill gives the Central government the power to amend the functions of any of the above bodies through a notification, whenever it is deemed necessary to do so.

How does Bill change the functioning of dams?

  • If the bill is made into a law, then dam owners will have to provide a dam safety unit in each dam.
  • 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.
  • The bill requires dam owners to prepare emergency action plans. Risk-assessment studies will also have to be undertaken by owners, regularly.
  • 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 by experts.

Issues with bill

  • The primary objection to the bill is that is unconstitutional, as water is one of the items on the State List.
  • Tamil Nadu, which currently possesses four dams situated in Kerala, is opposed to the Bill as it would result in the four dams falling under the NDSA.
  • This will be doing away with Tamil Nadu’s rights over the maintenance of the dam.
  • The Bill states that the NCDS will be chaired by the Central Water Commissioner.
  • However, 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.

-Source: The Hindu

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