What is Dam Safety Bill?
India is at the third position only after the USA and China in terms of the number of large dams currently in operation. Apart from the large dams, there are thousands of small and medium sized dams in the country. Their contribution is crucial in fostering rapid and sustainable agricultural advancement and development. However, there has been a lack of proper maintenance, legal framework and uniform law for ensuring safety of these dams. The Central Water Commission (CWC) through the Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO), State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO), and the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) has been constantly making endeavours in this direction. But, they can do little as they are only advisory bodies and do not have statutory powers.
According to official data, about 164 of the large dams are over 100 years old, 75% of the large dams are over 25 years old whereas 1041 dams are over 50 years old. This is a matter of major concern as unsafe dams are a threat to human life, private and public assets, flora and fauna and the environment. Thirty six cases of dam failures had been reported in the past from different states – Rajasthan accounted for the most (11 cases), followed by M.P. (10 cases), Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, U.P, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Odisha.
The Dam Safety Bill 2019 provides for proper inspection, surveillance, maintenance and operation of all specified dams and ensures safety practices among them. It will empower the Union Territories and states to adopt uniform dam safety mechanisms to ensure dams’ safety and safeguard livestock, human life and property. Further, it will also help in regular inspection of dams, comprehensive review on dam safety, Emergency Action Plan, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals and adequate service and maintenance of funds for safety of dams. It lays down the liability of the safety of dam on the owner of the dam and outlines penal provisions for omission and commission of certain acts.
The Bill envisages for establishment of National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS) and Sate Dam Safety Organization (SDSO). The NCDS will frame policies and suggest necessary recommendation as required for safety and development of the dams while NDSA will be concerned with implementation of the policies, standards and guidelines for safety of dams in the country. It will be chaired by Central Water Commission.
National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA)
The role of NDSA:-
- It will enable liaison with dam owners and SDSO in formulating policies and practices related to dam safety.
- It will render managerial and technical assistance to the states and SDSOs.
- It shall keep a track on the dams in the country and records of their failures.
- It shall investigate the reasons behind failure of major dams;
- It shall update and publicize the standard mechanisms for detailed investigation and routine inspection of the dams & appurtenances;
- It shall provide accreditations to the organizations working on designing, construction and investigation of dams;
- It shall resolve problems between SDSOs of two states or between a SDSO and a dam owner of the respective state;
- Further, in issues such as dams of one State falling under the territory of another State, NDSA will eliminate the potential causes for inter-state conflicts by performing the role of SDSO.
State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS) & State Dam Safety Organization (SDSO)
State committee on Dam Safety will ensure proper inspection, maintenance, surveillance and operation by the respective state government and their safe functioning. It envisages that every state shall establish a SDSO which shall be headed by officers preferably from the sectors of hydro-mechanical engineering, dam-designs, geo-technical investigation, hydrology, dam-rehabilitation & instrumentation.
The bill envisages for establishment of SDSOs which shall be chaired by officials having enough experience in the respective field. It shall be concerned with proper inspection, maintenance, surveillance and operation of the dams in the state and recommend safety guidelines to the owners of the dams.
Duties of Dam Owners
The owners of the dams are required to:-
- Make sufficient fund reserves for repair and maintenance and for implementing the recommendations made by SDSOs.
- Compilation of technical documents relating to safety of dams;
- Must possess state-of-the-art data management tools;
- People on whom responsibility of dam safety has been laid down must have required qualification and experience as stated in the decree &undergo adequate trainings;
- Preparation of initial filling plan and filling criteria before filling the reservoir;
- Before initial filling SDSO must inspect safety mechanisms;
- Installation of Operational & Mainetnance(O&M) system with adequate staff;
- Verification of O&M manual.
- In case of construction of dams
- designing, constructing and investigating must be done by certified organizations;
- guidelines and standard codes prescribed by BIS must be followed;
- according to NCDS specified guidelines, engineers should have relevant qualification, experience and competency;
- following the quality control measures as prescribed by the NCDS;
- Getting approval from Competent Authority before constructing new dams or alteration of existing dams.
Safety Inspection and Collection Data
A dam safety unit must be established within the dam owner’s O&M setup. He must initiate a detailed investigation of the dams before and after monsoon through dam safety units. Engineers must remain active at the dam sites during the monsoon period and throughout the emergency phase following earthquake or natural disasters. In case of flood, earthquakes or if there is any sign of distress, a special inspection must follow.
It’s the duty of the owners to keep track over the readings and send the reports to SDSO. Each dam sites must Hydro-meteorological station and Seismological station for those dams which are higher than 30m or falls under zone III or above.
Disaster Management & Emergency Action Plan
Dam owners are required to establish a hydro-meteorological network, an emergency flood warning system & inflow forecasting system. These systems must be periodically tested for their aptness. The test reports and information on forecasted inflows, outflows, adverse impacts and warnings of flood must be forwarded to authorities and broadcasted on public domains.
The dams should cooperate with NDSA to run early warning system and also keep an emergency action plan prepared to tackle emergencies. Emergency plans must include type of emergencies which may occur, its effect on probable areas, habitats along with structures and installations which might get affected. To handle adverse situations, it must include inundation maps, warning procedures and advance preparation to avoid fatalities. Further, dam owners must conduct risk management studies at specific intervals and also consult and cooperate with DM agencies.
Offences and Penalties
The bill lays down following provisions for penalty and punishments if the framework of dam safety is not followed –
First, if an individual obstructs an employee or an officer or refuses to comply with the directions laid down by the state or central government or NCDS, SCDS, NDSA & SDSO, he can be imprisoned upto 1 year (2 years if there are fatalities) or fined.
Secondly, if any department of the government is at fault, the head of the department shall be considered guilty if he is found knowledgeable about the offence.
Thirdly, if the offence is by a corporate body or a company, then every single person responsible for the conduct of business shall be deemed guilty.
Fourthly, offences shall only be cognizable if the complaint is made by State govt. or central govt. or by NCDS, SCDS, NDAS & SDSO.
Though the dam safety bill is a good initiative by the government, there are a few problems. First, too much emphasis has been given on the structural safety of the dams in comparison to operational safety. This lacuna needs to be filled because, according to the reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Chennai Floods 2015, it is evident that there were operational failures. The reports reveal that due to indiscriminate discharge of water by Chembarambakkam reservoir, Adyar River was burdened leading to floods in the city.
Secondly, unless all operational and structural decisions are broadcasted in public domains, all the flaws cannot be neutralised.
Thirdly, the bill does not mention anything about compensation to the victims of dam failure, which was a crucial recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of 15th Lok Sabha on “Dam Safety Bill, 2010”.
Fourthly, the whole dam safety mechanism is influenced by the Central Water Commission (CWC) with Chairperson of CWC being the chairman of NCDS, a representative of CWC being member of each SCDS means that CWC will act as an advisor as well as a regulator. This is not permissible under the Indian Constitution as stated by the Supreme Court.
Moreover, CWC is involved in making policies about dams, guiding designs, monitoring, financing, approving seismic parameters, lobbying for dam projects, flood forecasting etc. Dam safety being a regulatory function, the CWC will have a conflict of interest in being involved in the mechanisms of Dam safety.
Fifth, many states are of the view that the bill encroaches on the sovereignty of the states in managing their dams thus violating the philosophy of federalism preserved in the constitution. They describe this as an attempt by the Union government to fortify power in the semblance of safety concerns. Section 23(1) of the bill states that if a dam of any state falls under the territory of another state, then NDSA will perform the responsibilities of SDSO to eliminate potential causes of conflicts between states. Tamil Nadu is worried about this clause as four (Parambikulam, Peruvaripallam, Thunakkadavu,and Mullaperiyar) of its dams are situated in Kerala. Presently, these dams are governed in accordance to the pre-existing long-term agreements between the states. According to this bill the state owning the dams shall loose all the rights over its maintenance and safety if it located under the territory of another state.
Why the Bill was not passed earlier?
The concept of bringing in a nationwide dam safety bill evolved during 1980s. In 1982, under the chairmanship of CWC a committee was formed which submitted its report in 1986. In 2002, the draft was finally circulated to states and in 2006 Bihar became the first state to enact Dam Safety Bill. In 2007, resolutions were passed by West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh assemblies in the Parliament for enacting dam safety bill. The bill was introduced in the Parliament in August 2010 but got lapsed with the dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha.
According to Article 252 of the Indian Constitution, a resolution needs to be passed in the Parliament by two or more states to enact a law on a subject under state list. In 2014, Andhra Pradesh was divided between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh through Andhra Pradesh reorganization act. Ever since the bifurcation, neither Andhra Pradesh nor Telangana assembly ratified the proposition passed by former government of Andhra Pradesh in 2007, seeking the Parliament to implement a nationwide dam safety law.
The Modi government, in its first tenure, had sought for an opinion on the issue from the solicitor general of India instead of passing a resolution by a BJP ruled state. The solicitor opined that according to Article 246 of the constitution, the move was constitutionally valid. Thereafter, a fresh draft was made on dam safety by the Union government in May 2017. On 12th December 2018, towards the fag end of Modi government’s first term, the bill was introduced in the Parliament but due to dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in May 2019, the bill was lapsed once again. It was again reintroduced in the Parliament on 29th July 2019 in the second tenure of Modi’s government.
Dam Safety Bill 2019 is an excellent initiative by the government for proper maintenance, inspection, surveillance and operation of all the specified dams in India. It will establish a National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) to make policies and regulations for the safety of the dams. Apart from NCDS, it will also establish a National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) as a regulatory body for implementing the policies, standards and guidelines for dam safety. It shall be entrusted with conserving and publishing reports of all dams as well as resolving relevant disputes between states. Additionally, it lays down the liability of dam maintenance on the owner of the dam and outlines penal provisions. With such a huge mandate in the 17th Lok Sabha and the robust position of the NDA in Rajya Sabha, it is hopeful that the bill will get enacted this time.