Opposition MPs allege motives to centre's Dam Safety Bill

Opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha have expressed reservations about the Centre’s decision to introduce the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, alleging that the centre’s move 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 per cent 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 apprehensions about the bill.
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 NK 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 Raja demanded that the bill be sent to a Parliamentary committee, Roy wondered why the centre was “interfering in the realm of states?”
Chowdhury, who leads the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the bill was too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.
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, 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, Shekhawat said his ministry had got the matter legally examined by the Solicitor General of India, who had given the go-ahead.