The Dam Safety Bill - 2019

On 29 July 2019, “The Dam Safety Bill, 2019” was introduced in the lower house by the Ministry of Jal Shakti. The bill provides for the inspection, maintenance, surveillance, and operation of a specific dam across India. It provides for an institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams.

The provision of the bill

  • Applicability of the Bill:
    The Bill applies to all specified dams in the nation. These are dams with:
    • height more than 15 metres, or
    • height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to specific additional design and structural conditions.

  • National Committee on Dam Safety:
    The National Committee on Dam Safety will be formed and will be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission. All other members will be designated by the central government, and include:
    • up to three dam safety experts.
    • up to seven representatives of the state governments (by rotation), and
    • up to 10 representatives of the central government

  • Functions of the Committee include:
    • making policies and regulations regarding prevention of dam failures and dam safety standards
    • analyzing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.

  • National Dam Safety Authority:
    The National Dam Safety Authority will be headed by an officer, not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, who will be designated by the central government.
    Functions of the Authority include:
    • improving the policies made by the National Committee on Dam Safety
    • resolving issues b/w State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or b/w a SDSO and any dam owner in that state
    • specifying regulations for investigation and regulations of dams
    • providing accreditation to agencies working on design, alteration and construction of dams.

  • State Dam Safety Organisation:
    State governments will establish State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs). All specified dams located in a state will come under the jurisdiction of that state’s SDSO. However, in some cases the National Dam Safety Authority will act as the SDSO.
    These include cases where a dam:
    • is owned by a central public sector undertaking.
    • is owned by one state but located in another state,
    • extends over multiple states

  • Functions of the SDSOs include:
    • keeping continuous surveillance, monitoring and inspecting the operation and maintenance of dams
    • maintaining a database of all dams
    • 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:
    • reviewing the work of the SDSO and ordering dam safety investigations
    • recommending dam safety measures and reviewing the progress on such measures
    • assessing the potential impact on upstream and downstream states and these states will have their representatives on the State Committee.

  • Change in functions of the bodies:
    Functions of:
    • the National Dam Safety Authority
    • the National Committee on Dam Safety
    • the State Committees on Dam Safety have been given in Schedules to the Bill.
    The Bill specifies that the central government can revise these Schedules through a notification, if deemed necessary.

  • Obligations of dam owners:
    Owners of specified dams are needed to provide a dam safety unit in each dam.
    This unit will inspect the dams:
    • before and after the monsoon session
    • during and after every earthquake, deluge, or any other calamity or sign of distress. Dam owners will have to be prepared for 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 obligatory in specific cases such as major modification of the original structure, or an extreme seismic or hydrological event.

  • Offences and penalties:
    The Bill provides for two types of offences.
    These are:
    • declining to comply with directions issued under the Bill.
    • obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions under the Bill
    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 prolonged up to two years. Offences will be cognizable only when the complaint is filed by the government, or any authority constituted under the Bill.

Government Intention

  • The bill provides a uniformity of procedures which is followed by all dam owners for a particular type of large dams
  • The Bill provides guidelines and a mechanism to ensure that the guidelines are followed:
  • The Dam safety bill provides a mechanism for the professional efficiency of various planners, designers, and contractors. India’s dams today have a design problem. So this bill in the direction to remove these discrepancies which compromise dam safety.
  • Dam safety is important, and the bill provides a guideline for reducing the risk associated with dams and strengthening dam safety which has a risk to life and wealth of people.

Issues Associated with Dam Safety

  • Due to siltation water holding capacity of dams reduced
  • India is considered the 3rd largest dam owning country. The age of dams is between 25 to 100 years, some dams old for more than 100 years. Many dams have distorted in India since Independence, and this causes huge loss of property and life of people who resided near dams
  • The regulation of dams fully relies on individual dam managers. There is no systematization and no actual understanding in terms of the downstream water requirement or the kind of flows that are already there.
  • Landscape, land-use change, patterns of rainfall, structural features, etc affect dam safety. All the factors should be taken into account with respect to dam safety. So new dam safety bill brings after considering these factors.

Criticism of the Dam safety bill

  • The concern of Centre’s decision to introduce the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, will weaken the powers of State governments since water is a State subject.
  • Loss incur by the public is huge due to any disaster, and compensation is too inadequate to the people affected by the dams
  • Only focused on structural safety but mum on operational safety which is equally important for dam safety management. So, need to insert skill and training provision in this bill

Dam safety is dependent on many factors, so need to focus on operational and structural factors. At the same time need to strengthen institutional capacity and capability of the state irrigation department and Central water commission and proper coordination b/w central and state bodies. It should be ensured that the inspection of dams is done by the respective state governments.
No amount of compensation justifies the loss of lives, and neither punishment is the solution for the losses. So, it is better to prevent such a disaster which is the negligence of human nature. With the changing climate, it has become necessary to think about the issue of water carefully and proactively. While uniformity of procedures and guidelines regarding dams’ safety, but equally local factors such as climate and catchment areas, need to be taken into account.