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Bill for Safety of Dams tabled in Lok Sabha

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Ashok Pathak | The TrickyScribe: A bill seeking to establish an institutional mechanism for inspection, maintenance, operation and surveillance of specified dams across the country was taken up for consideration and passage in Lok Sabha on Friday. Provisions of the bill are proposed to be applied to all specified dams in the country which have the height of more than 15 m, or between 10 m to 15 m.

The proposed legislation envisages constituting a State Dam Safety Organisation whose functions will be to keep perpetual surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams, keeping a database of all dams, and recommending safety measures to owners of dams.

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The bill envisages a two-tier structure at national as well state level to ensure the safety of dams in the country, said Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat while moving the bill. Observing that safety of dam is extremely important as it concerns lives of people, property and flora and fauna, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, “There is a need to have a common protocol for the safety of dams in the country.”

There are as many as 5,745 reservoirs in the country of which 293 are more than 100 years old. The age of 25 per cent of dams is between 50 to 100 years and 80 per cent are over 25 years old, he said. Among other things, the bill also seeks to resolve the inter-state issues concerning maintenance and safety of dams, he said, adding as many as 92 per cent of dams in the country are on inter-state river basins.

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He further said that 40 dams have collapsed in India since Independence and worst such disaster occurred in Gujarat in 1979 leading to loss of thousands of lives of people. The dam collapse always becomes an international issue, he said, adding it would be a matter of national shame if it is found the collapse was on account of poor maintenance.

The present bill is based on the earlier draft bill which could not be pushed in the previous Lok Sabha, he said. It includes various suggestions of the Standing Committee which had scrutinised the earlier bill. The bill, he added, envisages constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety headed by the Chairman, Central Water Commission.

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The panel will formulate policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures, and analyse causes of major dam failures and suggest changes in dam safety practices. The legislation also envisages setting up of a National Dam Safety Authority to be headed by an officer, not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, to be appointed by the central government.

The main task of the National Dam Safety Authority includes implementing the policies formulated by the National Committee on Dam Safety, resolving issues between State Dam. Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or between an SDSO and any dam owner in that state, specifying regulations for inspection and investigation of dams.

The National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) will also provide accreditation to agencies working on construction, design and alteration of dams. The proposed legislation also envisages constituting a State Dam Safety Organisation whose functions will be to keep perpetual surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams, keeping a database of all dams, and recommending safety measures to owners of dams.

The bill also provides for two types of offences obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions, and refusing to comply with directions issued under the proposed law. Offences will be cognisable only when the complaint is made by the government, or any authority constituted under the bill. As per the provisions of 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 extended up to two years.

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