Tamil Nadu

Jayalalithaa picks holes in draft Dam Safety Bill

Indicating several aspects, which she claimed have not been covered by the draft Dam Safety Bill, 2016, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking him to direct the Ministry of Water Resources to reconsider the need for the proposed legislation, and urged the Centre to “desist from needless adventurism.”

In her letter to Mr. Modi, which was released to the media, Ms. Jayalalithaa listed several aspects of the bill to contend that it might end up compromising the existing accountability mechanism and arrangements. As State governments had adequate expertise and the Central Water Commission was also associated with dam safety aspects, “there appears to be no pressing need or necessity to have a Central legislation on the issue,” the Chief Minister said.

“Since the draft Bill covers an area which falls in large measure within the legislative competence of States, the Government of India must desist from needless adventurism and not ride rough shod over the federal constitutional framework.”

Among the aspects that have not been covered in the draft bill was the non-provision for dams and reservoirs which were owned, operated and maintained by a State, but located in another State by virtue of long standing inter-State agreements, which have been upheld in Supreme Court judgments.

“This is a grave omission. There are established rights under pre-existing long-term agreements which require that certain dams in a State are operated and maintained by another State,” she said and referred to Tamil Nadu’s Mullaperiyar, Parambikulam, Thunakkadavu and Peruvarippallam dams, which are owned, operated and maintained by the Tamil Nadu government by virtue of inter-State agreements, but are located in a neighbouring State.

“The present draft law, by oversight or deliberate design, cannot and should not overturn such rights, which would affect a large number of farmers and households depending on the reservoirs for irrigation and drinking water supply,” she contended and argued that the Bill ought to have contained a proviso/explanation, which ensured that in the case of such dams, the State owning, operating and maintaining the dam should be recognised and treated as its owner and made responsible for the safety of the dam.

Recalling her earlier opinions to the similar bill, introduced by the UPA government, she said it was unfortunate that none of the views already conveyed in the earlier bill appeared to have been considered while preparing the draft bill.

Though any legislation to regulate dam safety must ensure the functions and rights of the State governments, there was a clear indication in the Dam Safety Bill, 2010 that the legislation was to apply only to those States whose legislatures had passed resolutions. “No such indication has been given in the present draft and the intent appears to be to extend the legislation throughout the country,” the Chief Minister pointed out.

Overriding powers

Despite the fact that dams and reservoirs constructed on a river flowing within the State fell squarely within the State government’s competence, the overriding powers proposed in the National Dam Safety Organisation to inspect them was “against the spirit of the Constitution”, she said.

“I do not think that the creation of a National Authority and a Committee system at the National and State levels, as proposed in the Draft Bill, would be a workable arrangement in this context adding significant value.”

“Tamil Nadu as the dam owning State has the required competence and capacity to maintain and operate such dams and to carry out maintenance and repair works for proper upkeep,” Ms. Jayalalithaa asserted and disapproved the proposed feature in the bill, which stipulated that the State Dam Safety Organisation would have jurisdiction over all dams located in a State irrespective of who owns, operates and maintains the dam.

She said the matter “should not be proceeded with in haste and without discussing the issues raised by Tamil Nadu threadbare.”

The Tamil Nadu government has analysed the draft without prejudice and its stand would be communicated to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation at the official level.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 9:50:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Jayalalithaa-picks-holes-in-draft-Dam-Safety-Bill/article14633374.ece

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