Q. Critically discuss the features of Dam Safety Bill 2019.
• The Dam Safety Bill, 2019 was introduced in Parliament recently.
• It provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of specified dams across the country.
• It also provides for an institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams.
Applicability of the Bill –
The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country. These are dams with:
(i) height more than 15 metres, or
(ii)height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions.
National Committee on Dam Safety –
The National Committee on Dam Safety will be constituted and will be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission.
Functions of the Committee include:
(i) formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures, and
(ii) analysing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.
National Dam Safety Authority –
The Bill also envisages setting up of a National Dam Safety Authority to be headed by an officer not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, to be appointed by the central government.
The main task of the National Dam Safety Authority includes implementing the policies formulated by the National Committee on Dam Safety, resolving issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or between an SDSO and any dam owner in that state, specifying regulations for inspection and investigation of dams.
State Dam Safety Organisation –
State governments will establish State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs).
All specified dams situated in a state will fall under the jurisdiction of that state’s SDSO.
However, in certain cases the National Dam Safety Authority will act as the SDSO.
These include cases where a dam:
(i) is owned by one state but situated in another state,
(ii) extends over multiple states, or
(iii) is owned by a central public sector undertaking.
The proposed legislation also envisages constituting a State Dam Safety Organisation whose functions will be to keep perpetual surveillance, inspection, monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams, keeping a database of all dams, and 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 state governments.
Functions of the Committee include:
(i) reviewing the work of the SDSO,
(ii) ordering dam safety investigations,
(iii) recommending dam safety measures and reviewing the progress on such measures, and
(iv) assessing the potential impact on upstream and downstream states. These states will also have their representatives on the State Committee.
Obligations of dam owners –
Owners of specified dams are required to provide a dam safety unit in each dam.
Dam owners will be required to prepare an emergency action plan, and carry out risk assessment studies for each dam at specified regular intervals.
Dam owners will also be required to prepare a comprehensive dam safety evaluation of each dam, at regular intervals, through a panel of experts.
The evaluation will be mandatory in certain cases such as major modification of the original structure, or an extreme hydrological or seismic event.
The Bill provides for two types of offences – obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions, and refusing to comply with directions issued under the proposed law.
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.
Offences will be cognisable only when the complaint is made by the government, or any authority constituted under the Bill.
Uniformity of procedures which is followed by all dam owners for a particular type of large dams.
Ensuring evaluation of professional efficiency of various contractors, designers and planners.
It provides for a mechanism where accreditation of the people who are really going to take part in the construction and maintenance, has to be taken care off.
It provides for the formulation of dam safety standards which will help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
Some have put a question mark over the legislative competence of the Centre.
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.
Other States fear that the Centre may take control over all their dams.
There is no provision for compensation to the victims of dam failures. It continues to suffer from a number of lacunas, including some rather serious ones.
For example, the whole dam safety mechanism is dominated by the Central Water Commission (CWC) with Chairperson of CWC being the chairman of National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), a representative of CWC being member of each State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS).
However, the CWC is also involved in policymaking about dams, in their approval, guiding designs, financing, monitoring, approving seismic parameters, flood forecasting, lobbying for dam projects and so on.
However, Dam Safety is essentially a regulatory function and thus CWC has clear conflict of interest in being involved in the Dam Safety mechanism.
The dam safety mechanism has to essentially work in public interest and the people at risk are the biggest stakeholders (unfortunately, the Bill does not even define who are the stakeholders of Dam Safety, though the term stakeholder is used in the DSB 2018) in ensuring safe design, planning, construction, operation and maintenance of dams.
Consultation with the states Promotion of cooperative federalism DRIP DHARMA Portal An Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle-based analysis using thermal and optical sensors may be useful to determine the health of the 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.