The Dam Safety Bill – why Tamil Nadu opposes it

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin on Friday issued a statement strongly condemning the Union government for not considering the interest of states while passing the Dam Safety Bill.

Parliament passed the Dam Safety Bill on Friday, despite strong opposition from the opposition. The Lok Sabha approved it in August 2019, and the Rajya Sabha approved it on Friday. The opposition requested that it be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for review. In the House, however, a motion to that effect was defeated.
What is the Dam Safety Bill, and why is it important?
The bill proposes to assist all states and Union Territories in implementing standardised dam safety procedures. Its goal is to “provide for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of the specified dam in order to prevent dam failure-related disasters, as well as institutional mechanisms to ensure their safe functioning, and for matters connected with or incidental thereto.”

As part of the Act, a three-year National Committee on Dam Safety will be formed, consisting of the chairman of the Central Water Commission, a maximum of 10 central government representatives in the ranks of joint secretary, a maximum of seven state government representatives, and three experts.

A state dam safety organisation will also be established, with responsibility for dam safety. This organisation has the authority to investigate and collect data in order to conduct a thorough review and study of the various aspects of dam design, construction, repair, and expansion, as well as appurtenant structures.

The state dam safety organisation must also notify the National Dam Safety Authority of events such as dam failures and keep records of major dam incidents for each dam.

The Act will create the National Dam Safety Authority, which will be based in Delhi. To deal with problems relating to dam engineering and dam safety management, it will be led by an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to the Government of India.

Tamil Nadu’s protest

M K Stalin, who has opposed the idea of a dam safety act, issued a statement on Friday strongly condemning the Union government for failing to consider the interests of states. The Bill, Stalin said, was harmful to federal principles and the powers of state governments, and that it was nothing but authoritarianism that usurped state governments’ rights without regard for the democratic-parliamentary ethos or the Indian Constitution.

Stalin argued that the move was dangerous to democracy, and that the Union government would be forced to answer to the people even if it used its majority to pass laws that were against the states’ interests.

While the AIADMK has backed the DMK’s opposition to the Bill, the Tamil Nadu legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution earlier this year demanding proper consultation with the states before making a decision.

The Bill is opposed by Tamil Nadu’s political parties and the state government for a variety of reasons. They claim it contains clauses that violate the state’s rights, particularly in relation to dams it built in neighbouring states, and that it will cause maintenance and operation issues. The state’s main concern is maintaining control over the dams, as well as autonomy and ownership of the assets.

When long-pending disputes arise in a country where most dams are built, operated, maintained, and owned by state governments, the impact of the Act remains to be seen.

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