States such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka have opposed the Bill as the legislation shifts dams and water management to the Union Government’s control.

MK Stalin wearing a white shirt and addressing crowd Image credit: PTI
news COVID-19 Friday, December 03, 2021 - 19:19

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin issued a statement condemning the passage of the Dams Safety Bill, 2019, in the upper house on Thursday. Stalin said that the Dam Safety Bill violated the spirit of federalism. Stalin, in his statement, called the Union government’s move of “adamantly passing the dams safety bill” as “reprehensible.” He also added that the DMK has consistently opposed the Bill, even while it was the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu in 2019, and now when it is in power.

Stalin’s statement also recalled the speech of DMK MP A Raja who asked for the Bill to be rescinded from Parliament as it violated federalism and snatched away the rights of state governments. MP A Raja has also said that the ruling government was trying to pass the bill urgently.

On Thursday, when the bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, DMK MP Tiruchy Siva said that the Bill infringed on the basic rights of states and would also give more power to the Union Government. He also added that the bill violated Article 252-I of the Constitution.

Further, Stalin's statement also added that DMK MP TKS Elangovan had asked for the bill to be sent to a separate committee for approval. MP Tiruchy Siva had also moved a motion and a vote had taken place on whether to send this Bill to a separate committee. Other opposition parties too supported this motion. However, Stalin’s statement added, the ruling BJP used its ‘brute majority to ensure that the Bill is not sent to a separate committee and passed the Bill”.

Stalin added that despite the AIADMK too supporting the move to send the Bill to an independent committee, the BJP still paid no heed and passed the Bill using brute majority.

The Dam Safety Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2019. On Thursday, the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill with two amendments, through a voice note. The Bill which took 34 years to draft will set up an institution to overlook the safety of specific dams in the country. Jal Shakthi Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said that the freshly passed legislation will lead to the setting up of a National Dam Safety Authority. The National Committee on Dam Safety or NCDS will work as a policy making body at the central level. And the National Dam Safety Authority or NDSA will implement these policies or recommendations by the NCDS. All the states too will have similar bodies under the National Dam Safety Authority, which will also hold the right to impose penalties if states do not adhere to the guidelines passed by it.

Under this legislation, the bodies — National Dam Safety Authorities, National Committee on Dam Safety and State Dam Safety Authorities — will look into the safety practices, surveillance, maintenance, inspection, operation and safe functioning of these dams. The NSDA will implement policies, guidelines and dam safety standards in India. Further, these organisations will have an exhaustive database of dams in the country, which include dams built on inter and intra state rivers.  A criteria to select dams which will come under the Dam Safety Bill too has been added. Dams which are:

a) more than 15 meters high and

b) other dams between 10-15 metres high, and which satisfy certain conditions which includes reservoir capacity of 1 million cubic metres or a dam length of at least 15 metres.

The main concern of states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha and others is that the legislation will shift water and dam management, which has so far been a state subject, to the Union government’s control.

Under Entry 17 of the States List Water supply, irrigation, water storage and water power are all subjects that come under the state list and states have the power to make laws on these subjects. Additionally, the Union government only has control over those rivers and river valleys that are inter state, as per Entry 56 of the State List.