Opposition parties urge Centre to send Dam Safety Bill to select committee for scrutiny

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New Delhi, Dec 2 (PTI): Opposition parties, including the Congress, the TMC and the DMK, demanded from the government in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that the Dam Safety Bill, 2019 be sent to a parliamentary select committee, saying it needs scrutiny as it is “unconstitutional and encroaches upon the states’ rights”.

The bill seeks to provide for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams for the prevention of dam failure-related disasters and an institutional mechanism to ensure their safe functioning, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
It was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2019.
After Union minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat moved the bill for the consideration of the House, DMK leader Tiruchi Siva moved an amendment to the bill to send it to a select committee.
Moving the amendment, Siva said, “India is a union of states. The unique feature of our democracy and the Constitution is that it works on federalism. The states have their own rights. Entry 17 of the states’ list provides for the states to make laws with regard to water supply, drainage, embankment etc.”
“Most of the bills that have been brought are transgressing into the powers of the states. This bill provides for the constitution of a national committee for dam safety as well as an authority…. The control (of these) comes under the Centre and the appointment of the state representatives and experts also comes under the Centre,” he added.
Noting that the bill takes away the rights of the states, the DMK leader said, “I urge that this bill has to be referred to a select committee.”
Participating in the debate, Shaktisinh Gohil of the Congress said, “This bill is unconstitutional and needs to be sent to a select committee…someone can challenge the bill in court.”
He also said the opposition had advised the government on the already repealed farm laws.
“This bill does not come under your jurisdiction. It is under the states’ jurisdiction. The provisions of this bill encroach upon the rights of the states.
“I support the demand to send this bill to a select committee…twelve of our (suspended) members are not in the House,” Gohil said.
Nadimul Haque of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) echoed similar views and said, “The bill needs scrutiny. The bill, in its current form, has many contentions clauses…. The current bill does not guarantee any power to the states. It seeks to snatch the powers of the states.”
He said the bill is silent on the flow of funds while it provides that all 21 members of the national dam safety authority will be nominated by the Centre.
It is an attempt to encroach upon the sovereignty of the states, Haque said.
“We endorse the view of Tiruchi Siva for sending the bill to a select committee,” he added.
T K S Elangovan of the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) said, “The bill is a violation of Article 252. Powers of the states are being taken away by the Centre. It should be sent to a select committee.”
Supporting the bill, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member K J Alphons said, “This bill is the ultimate tribute to federalism. Big dams are water bombs. Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal state assemblies have already passed resolutions that the Centre should pass a law (on dam safety).”
Prasanna Acharya of the BJD said it is an old bill that was pending in the Lok Sabha from 2010 and due to various reasons, was passed in 2019.
As the bill deals with state subjects, the Constitution mandates that such a bill could be brought only after two states pass a resolution. In this case, resolutions were passed by West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh (before its bifurcation) 10 years ago.
“Now, Andhra Pradesh has been bifurcated and Telangana has not passed a resolution,” Acharya said, while asking the government whether in such a case, the resolution would hold.
He also pointed out that in countries such as the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, dams are controlled by the respective state governments and not by the federal governments.
Acharya also pointed out that according to the bill, all the 21 members in the National Committee on Dam Safety, including the seven state representatives, are to be nominated by the Centre.
He said the bill is focused on the structural safety and not the operational safety of the dams and states like Odisha has not been consulted.
V Vijaysai Reddy of the YSRCP supported the bill, saying there is an urgent need to pass this legislation and it should not be delayed.
However, he also pointed out that any amendment to the schedules of the bill could be done by the Centre through a notification, bypassing Parliament.
V Sivadasan of the CPI(M) said the bill is against the spirit of democracy and goes against the Constitution.
“Our Constitution provides some rights to the states, please do not trample upon the rights,” he said, adding that the bill will take away the states’ ability to protect their own interest, despite water being a state subject.
A Navaneethakrishnan of the AIADMK opposed the bill, describing it as “inherently defective” and one that has “contradictory, impermissible, arbitrary and unfair” clauses.
Ram Nath Thakur of the JD(U) supported the bill and asked the Centre to consider constructing a high dam in Nepal to protect the people of Bihar from facing floods after June every year.

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