“The safety and security of our dams is a matter of great concern as it is not just about infrastructure but also the question of thousands of lives around and affected by them” Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the landmark Dam Safety Bill (2019), paving the way for the enactment of the Dam Safety Act in the country.

The Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat had introduced the bill in Rajya Sabha on 1st December 2021. The Dam Safety Bill (2019) was passed by the Lok Sabha on 2nd August 2019.

After China and USA, India is the 3rd largest dam-owning nation in the world. There are around 5,700 large dams in the country, of which about 80 percent are already over 25 years old. Nearly 227 dams that are over 100 years old are still functional. Although India’s track record of dam safety is at par with that of the developed nations, there have been instances of unwarranted dam failures and of poor maintenance issues.

The Dam Safety Bill provides for adequate surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all the large dams in the country so as to prevent dam failure related disasters. The Bill provides for an institutional mechanism at both Central and State levels to address structural and non-structural measures required for ensuring the safe functioning of dams.

As per the provision of the Bill, a National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) will be constituted to help evolve uniform dam safety policies, protocols, and procedures. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) as a regulatory body for ensuring the nationwide implementation of dam safety policies and standards. At the State level, the Bill prescribes for the constitution of State Committees on Dam Safety (SCDS) and the establishment of the State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO).

The Dam Safety Bill also addresses in a comprehensive manner, critical concerns related to dam safety on account of emerging climate change-related challenges. This Bill provides for regular inspection and hazards classification of dams. It also provides for drawing up emergency action plans and comprehensive dam safety reviews by an independent panel of experts. There is provision for an emergency flood warning system to address the safety concerns of downstream inhabitants.

Through Bill, the Dam owners are required to provide resources for timely repair and maintenance of the dam structure, along with related machinery.

This Bill looks at Dam Safety holistically and provides for not only structural aspects but also operational and maintenance efficacy through the prescription of strict O & M protocols.

This Bill has penal provisions, involving offences and penalties, for ensuring compliance with the provisions.

Definite timelines have been provided in the Bill for the establishment of a robust institutional framework, with the support of both the Centre and the States. The Bill also focuses on the implementation of mandatory dam safety actions by the dam owners within a defined timeline. The passage of this Bill heralds a new era of dam safety and water resources management in India.

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Rahul Bhandari is Editor of TheNewsHimachal and has been part of the digital world for last 15 years.