Rajya Sabha clears dam bill after protests – Lok Sabha experiences 117% productivity

NEW DELHI: Despite demonstrations and some disruptions, Parliament returned to normalcy on Thursday, with the Lok Sabha debating the Covid case and the Rajya Sabha approving the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, with the DMK forcing a division over an amendment, despite the absence of several other opposition parties.
After a couple of days of disruptions, the Lok Sabha saw a 117 percent increase in productivity on Wednesday, with 109 members speaking during Zero Hour and a total of 140 members speaking throughout the day, which included an extensive discussion under Rule 193 on the Covid situation and its ramifications. A formal motion before the House is not required for discussion under Rule 193.

Speaker Om Birla undertook numerous rounds of informal conversations with floor leaders, reassuring them that by extending the Zero Hour, he will provide adequate time for debate on matters. “Even TRS members (who have been in the House well seeking a law on MSP for agricultural produce) were told by the Speaker to quit protesting and raise the matters for which they had been allocated time,” a senior leader remarked.

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The Rajya Sabha passed the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, after Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat rejected the Opposition’s claim that it was “unconstitutional” and “anti-federal” since it encroached on state legislative domain. He underlined that the bill does not attempt to impinge on states’ rights to their waterways, dam ownership or maintenance, or even resources such as power, but rather to enforce safety standards and prevent dam-related disasters that cause significant loss of life and property.
With 80 “Noes” to 28 “Ayes,” DMK member Tiruchi Siva’s amendment to refer the Bill enacted by the Lok Sabha in 2019 to a select committee was defeated.
The bill calls for the monitoring, inspection, operation, and maintenance of the dams in question in order to avoid disasters caused by dam failure, as well as the establishment of an institutional system to assure their safe operation.
During the four-hour debate, opposition MPs were unanimous in calling it unconstitutional, stating that Entry 17 of List 1 of the Constitution grants states sole authority over water supplies and embankments, and that Entry 56 did not include dam safety among the exceptions to Entry 17. When Congress MP Shakti Sinh Gohil introduced a bill in 2010 using Article 252, the preamble said that the Centre could only bring such a bill on dam safety if two or more states requested it.
Both the West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh legislatures have previously passed resolutions indicating that the federal government should not legislate on dam safety and related laws.
In response to the debate, Shekhawat attempted to assuage fears that the Bill was ‘unconstitutional,’ claiming that the standing committee that passed the Bill had noted that the Centre could submit legislation on dam safety rules in the public interest. The Solicitor General agreed with this viewpoint.

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