Rajya Sabha passes Dam Safety Bill with amendment

by IANS |

New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Dam Safety Bill 2019 that provides for surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of certain specified dams across the country with a provision of imprisonment up to two years, or a fine, or both, for an offence under it.

The Bill was passed with an amendment - exact wordings for which would be available when the proceedings are finalised and put on records - and therefore, the Bill that was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2019, will now go back to the Lok Sabha again.

It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday by Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat amid din by opposition leaders. However, before any further discussion or vote could happen, the House was adjourned.

On Thursday, initiating the debate again, Shekhawat elaborated how and why the Bill was necessary.

More than a dozen members from the opposition benches - many of whom had come with a black ribbon on their right elbow protesting suspension of 12 MPs - demanded the Bill be referred to the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha.

Summing up the debate, Shekhawat tried to answer all the issues raised by the opposition and assured that the Centre did not want to encroach on States' powers.

Deputy Chair Bhubaneshwar Kalita, who was in chair through the entire debate, took up, for voice vote, the motion moved by DMK's Tiruchi Siva to send the Bill to the Select Committee. When it did not yield a clear result, the division was demanded. However, the motion was negative.

The Bill was later passed with an amendment by voice vote.

Data as on June 2019 (a month ahead of the time when the Bill was presented in the Lok Sabha) shows that India has 5,745 large dams (includes dams under construction). Of these, 5,675 large dams are operated by states, 40 by central public sector undertakings, and five by private agencies. Over 75 per cent of these dams are more than 20 years old and about 220 dams are more than 100 years old. Most of these large dams are in Maharashtra (2,394), Madhya Pradesh (906), and Gujarat (632).

The Bill envisages the constitution of two national level bodies and two at the state level. The National Committee on Dam Safety will help in evolving policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety standards while the National Dam Safety Authority will implement the policies and provide technical assistance to the state bodies.

The State Committee on Dam Safety and the State Dam Safety Organisation will have similar roles to that of national bodies but with jurisdiction restricted to their respective states.

The Bill applies to all specified dams in 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 and includes dams built on both inter- and intra-state rivers.

The government has introduced a provision of putting a person in jail in connection with dam safety. Among others is a provision where, if the offence leads to loss of lives, the term of imprisonment may be extended up to two years.

As per provisions, dam owners will be responsible for the safe construction, operation, maintenance and supervision of a dam. Apart from regular monitoring, the functions of dam owners include preparing an emergency action plan, carrying out risk assessment studies at specified regular intervals, and preparing a comprehensive dam safety evaluation through a panel of experts.

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