Dam Safety Bill runs into Opposition criticism

‘Centre encroaching on State subject’

Updated - July 30, 2019 12:50 am IST

Published - July 29, 2019 10:41 pm IST - New Delhi

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. File

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. File

Opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha on Monday expressed deep reservations about the Centre’s decision to introduce the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, asserting that the legislation, which is ostensibly aimed at providing uniform safety measures across the country, would undermine the powers of State governments since water is a State subject.

Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who introduced the bill, argued that the Centre was empowered to enact a law on the subject, especially as 92% of the dams involved two or more States, and Article 246 and 56 empowered the Centre to intervene.

Several members, including four from the Congress — Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari and Gaurav Gogoi — voiced their apprehensions about the Bill.

The Biju Janata Dal’s B. Mahtab said while there could be no disagreement over the basic concern of dam safety, the Centre was trying to “appropriate” the powers of the State in the case of this particular legislation and urged the Union Government to reconsider it. Trinamool member Saugata Roy, the RSP’s N.K. Premachandran and the DMK’s A. Raja also questioned Parliament’s legislative competence to enact such a law since water resources was part of the ‘State list’ in the Constitution.

While Mr. Raja demanded that the bill be sent to a Parliamentary committee, Mr. Roy wondered why the Centre was “interfering in the realm of States?”

Mr. Chowdhury, who leads the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the bill was too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.

Mr. Tharoor listed four concerns including inadequate compensation to the people affected by dams, need for an independent regulator as well as for a precise definition of stakeholders.

In his reply, Mr. Shekhawat said that there were 5,344 dams and almost 300 were built decades ago, prompting the pressing need to set up a mechanism to ensure their safety.

Asserting that the Centre had not done anything to take away control from the States, Mr. Shekhawat said his ministry had got the matter legally examined by the Solicitor General of India, who had given the go-ahead.

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