IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Dam Safety Act

6th December, 2021 Polity

Figure 2: No Copyright Infringement Intended


  • The Dam Safety Bill, 2019, which provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams across the country has been passed by the Parliament.

Need of the Act:

  • there is no specific Central law that governs the dam safety, given the situation that the ownership of dams and their maintenance predominantly falls in the purview of the States.
  • 67 dams were built prior to the 20th century and 1,039 dams during the first 70 years of the 20th century. ageing of dams in the country has been a matter of concern.
  • In 2007, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal Assemblies passed resolutions empowering Parliament to come up with a law on dam safety, under Article 252. 

Provisions of the Act:

  • The Bill provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.

National Committee on Dam Safety:

  • The Bill provides for constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safetywhich shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.
  • It will be chaired by the Central Water Commissioner (CWC).The other members of the NCDS will be nominated by the Centre and will include up to 10 representatives of the Centre, 7 state government representatives, and 3 experts on dam safety.

National Dam Safety Authority:

  • The Bill provides for establishment of National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.
  • The NDSA will also specify regulations for the inspection of dams and will provide accreditation to the various agencies working on the structure of dams and their alteration.

State Committee on Dam Safety:

  • The Bill provides for constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by State Government.
  • The jurisdiction of the SDSOs will extend to all dams in that specific state.

Obligations of Dam Owners: 

  • The owners of the specified dams are required to provide a dam safety unit in each dam. This unit will inspect the dams before and after the monsoon session, and during and after every earthquake, flood, or any other calamity or sign of distress.
  • Dam owners will be required to prepare an emergency action plan, and carry out risk assessment studies for each dam at specified regular intervals.
  • Dam owners will also be required to conduct a comprehensive dam safety evaluation of each dam, at regular intervals, through a panel of experts.

Significance of the Act:

  • The Bill will help ensuring of safety of dams and safeguard benefits to peoples from such dams. This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
  • It addresses all issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety.
  • It lays onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for certain acts.
  • While dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural growth and development in India, there has been a long felt need for a uniform law and administrative structure for ensuring dam safety.

Challenges with the Act:

  • The primary objection to the bill is that is unconstitutional, as water is one of the items on the State List.
  • Tamil Nadu, which currently possesses four dams situated in Kerala, is opposed to the Bill as it would result in the four dams falling under the NDSA.
  • This will be doing away with Tamil Nadu’s rights over the maintenance of the dam.
  • The Bill states that the NCDS will be chaired by the Central Water Commissioner.
  • However the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that such a scenario is prohibited, as it involves the CWC, an advisor, functioning both as a regulator and the head of the NCDS.

Way Forward:

  • Centre can hold talks with the States to allay their fears and frame rules suitably for legislation.