LS: Govt introduces Dam Safety Bill despite opposition

The Government on Monday introduced the Dam Safety Bill in the Lok Sabha, despite opposition by the MPs of the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam (DMK). 

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) too opposed introduction of the Bill – notwithstanding its friendlier relations with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

The Bill seeks to set up a National Committee on Dam Safety Authority to maintain dam safety standards, work out dam safety policies, recommend necessary regulations and thus prevent disasters caused by dam failures. It also seeks to constitute a National Dam Safety Authority as a regulator “to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for proper surveillance, inspection and maintenance of (the) specified dams”, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Union Minister for Jal Shakti, said, introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Bill also provides for constitution of the State Committees on Dam Safety and State Dam Safety Organisations by the respective State Governments. 

“Parliament does not have competence to make this law. One thing is that there is supposed to be an exception for inter-State disputes coming to the Union but there are many dams that are purely intra-State. The Centre has no competence on that”, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said, opposing the introduction of the Bill. He said that the Bill had no provision to compensate the victims of dam failure. Gourav Gogoi of the principal opposition party said that the Union Government had re-introduced the Bill without consulting the State Governments. Adhir Choudhury, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said that the Bill was a “direct assault” on federal structure of the country. Manish Tiwari of the same party also questioned the legislative competence of the government in introducing the Bill. 

N K Premchandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party said that dams were “absolutely within the purview of the State Legislatures”. “The legislation on a subject which is absolutely within the purview of the Legislative Assemblies (of the States) is an encroachment on the powers of the State Legislatures,” he said. “We are all concerned for the safety of the dams but you should not appropriate the powers of the respective States,” said B Mahtab of the BJD. A Raja of the DMK and Sougata Roy of the TMC also opposed introduction of the Bill.  

The Government however went ahead and introduced the Bill with Shekhawat quoting Solicitor General opining that the Centre had the power to legislate on the subject of “dam safety”. 

He said that 293 of the 5,344 big dams in the country were more than 100 years old while 1,041 dams or 20% were 50 to 100 years old.  Nearly 92% per cent of the dams in the country were built over inter-state rivers, said the union Jal Shakti minister. 

The Dam Safety Bill had been introduced in the Lok Sabha for the first time by the erstwhile Congress-led Government in August 2010. After the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources had suggested significant changes in it, the Government had decided to withdraw the Bill, but it had lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Government had re-introduced the Bill in 2018 after incorporating the recommendation of the parliamentary panel, but it had also lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha earlier this year. 

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