Rajyasabha in Parliament winter session passes bill on dam safety

The Parliament winter session which started on November 29 discussed the topic of passing a bill on dam safety. After the protests and disruptions, Rajya Sabha on December 2 passed the Dam Safety Bill, 2019 after a four-hour discussion. The bill seeks to provide a strong legal and institutional framework to ensure the safety of dams. 

This is one of the first legislation to be passed this week, as the upper house witnessed strong opposition and obstruction of the 12 – member suspension. Moreover, after having disruptions among the Parliament, the house witnessed 117% productivity as 109 members spoke during Zero Hour and a total of 140 members spoke during the day that included an exhaustive discussion under Rule 193 on the Covid situation and its fallout.

Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the house said that the national policy on safe maintenance of dams has been pending for 40 years. As per record, there are currently  5,745 large dams in India, of which 293 are over 100 years old. Besides, 1,041 dams are between 50 and 100 years old. Warning on the aging of the dams have been given by experts and this has been taken as a matter of concern, especially the proper maintenance of the dams in India. Also, it found that the outdated and aging dams may be of concern to people living in nearby areas. The finding was reported by Central Water Commission (CWC).

When the session was conducted to discuss the matter, several parties, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the CPI (M), and the RJD, accused the government of exploiting the power of the state governments as dams were a state of the discussion and the Centre could not make rules for the states.

Taking steps to maintain our dams is as essential as other measures. The dams which are at the point of collapse would need to be taken care of by different states, said  Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the house. One of the worst disasters took place in Gujarat in 1979 when the Machhu dam collapsed resulting in the loss of thousands of lives.  This has to be considered and measures have to be taken, said the minister. He also pointed that it is because of the absence of a central law, the safety regulations vary from state to state. 

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The bill passed addresses issues encompassing regular inspection of dams, emergency action plans, comprehensive dam safety reviews, instrumentation, and safety manuals. It also fixes accountability for dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for the commission and omission of certain acts. It also lays down owners of dams will have to earmark sufficient funds for maintenance.