The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to set up an institutional mechanism for the safety of specified dams in the country.
The Dam Safety Bill, 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2019. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill with two official amendments through a voice vote. One of the amendments relates to the change in the year mentioned in the bill title from 2019 to 2021.
The bill will now go back to the Lok Sabha as the Rajya Sabha has made amendments to it.
The proposed legislation provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of the specified dams for the prevention of dam failure-related disasters. It provides for an institutional mechanism to ensure a safe functioning of the dams.
The demand of some opposition parties to send the bill to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha for scrutiny was negated as only 26 members voted in its favour, while 80 voted against it.
Also, all the amendments moved by the opposition parties were negated.
The House, the functioning of which has been disrupted following the suspension of 12 opposition MPs earlier this week, witnessed the participation of 22 members in the discussion on the bill.
Participating in the discussion, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the proposed legislation will create a National Dam Safety Authority.
"That system will have power to impose penalties," he added.
A clause has been added to the bill to impose punishment on the states or people if the norms are not adhered to.
Referring to the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), he said it works as a think-tank at the central level and the National Dam Safety Authority would monitor the implementation of the recommendations made by the NCDS. Similar bodies would also be there under the state governments.
"We have considered the report of the standing committee as the backbone for making this bill," Shekhawat said.
Noting that dam failures lead to loss of lives, he said the stress should be on duties rather than rights.
Several opposition members raised concerns that certain provisions of the bill interfere with the federal structure, the minister pointed out.
"When the Machchhu Morbi dam broke in 1976, thousands of people lost their lives. When the Morbi dam broke, for the first time in this country a discussion started to set-up a systematic protocol. A committee was formed at that time, which held comprehensive discussions with the states," he said.
Shekhawat said the committee had proposed to make a protocol around the safety of the dams, adding that now, there is an opportunity to support the legislation after 40 years. He said the NCDS has held 38 discussions till date, including comprehensive consultations with the states.
Attacking the government over the proposed legislation, Manoj Kumar Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said it "violates the principle of federalism". He asked the government to refer the bill to a select committee to remove anomalies.
Vaiko of the MDMK also opposed the bill. K Ravindra Kumar of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) said it is not right for the Centre to encroach upon the rights of the states. Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) urged the Centre to send the bill to a select committee.
"Do not keep bringing such bills which you have to revoke later," he said. Singh also urged the House to revoke the suspension of the 12 opposition members.
Fauzia Khan of the NCP and GC Chandrashekhar of the Congress also pointed out various lacunae in the bill, while Birendra Prasad Baishya of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Rambhai Harjibhai Mokariya of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported the proposed legislation.
BJP MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa said the Lower Subansiri dam is in Arunachal Pradesh while its downstream is in Assam and there is a need to consider the impact on the downstream. He said even small dams should be taken care of.