Dam Safety Bill, 2019

  • IASbaba
  • November 25, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure.

Dam Safety Bill, 2019

The Bill aims to deal with the risks of India’s ageing dams, with the help of a comprehensive federal institutional framework comprising committees and authorities for dam safety at national and state levels. 

Do You Know?

  • There are 5,344 large dams in India, of which around 293 are more than 100 years old and 1,041 are 50 to 100 years old.
  • Nearly 92% of these dams are on inter-State rivers, and accidents at many of them have spurred concerns as to the frequency and efficiency of their maintenance.

Highlights of the Bill

  • Objective: 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.
  • It constitutes two national bodies: The National Committee on Dam Safety, whose functions include evolving policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety standards; and the National Dam Safety Authority, whose 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.
  • It also constitutes two state bodies: State Committee on Dam Safety, and SDSO.  These bodies will be responsible for the surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams within their jurisdiction.
  • Power of Union Government: 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.  
  • Penal Provisions: An offence under the Bill can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both.

Key Issues and Analysis of Dam Safety Bill

  1. Issue of Federalism:
  • 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.  
  • Since ‘water’ comes under the State list, the bill is criticised as being an unconstitutional move aimed at taking control of state’s dams.
  • State’s see it as an attempt by the Centre to consolidate power in the guise of safety concerns
  1. Opposition by Tamil Nadu
  • The State which has fours dams — the Mullaperiyar, Parambikulam, Thunakkadavu and Peruvaripallam — that are owned by it, but are situated in neighbouring Kerala. 
  • Currently, the rights on these dams are governed by pre-existing long-term agreements among the States. 
  • The provisions in the Bill implies that the dam-owning State would not have rights over the safety and maintenance of the dam located in another State.
  • Thus, Tamil Nadu will lose the rights over the safety of above four dams which is violative of pre-existing agreement with Kerala State.
  1. Due Process
  • 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.


In the absence of a proper legal framework, safety and maintenance of these large number of dams are a cause of concern. Hence, the bill has to be passed by taking on board the concerns of States.

Connecting the dots:

  • Inter State River Water Disputes
  • Mullaperiyar Dam Issue

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