CHENNAI: The Centre on Thursday stated that the Dam Safety Act, 2021 will not alter any of the existing arrangements regarding ownership and water rights of the States but only stipulates an “institutional mechanism at the Central and State levels” to ensure safe functioning of specified dams to prevent dam failure.
In a counter affidavit filed before the Madras High Court, the Union Ministry of Jal Sakthi stated the Dam Safety Act, 2021 lays down the guidelines for safety of specified dams in the country and such stipulations are not restricted to any particular river, project or dam.
“The Act will not alter any existing arrangements with regard to dam ownership, operation and maintenance, project benefits and water rights of the States,” the affidavit filed by Deputy Commissioner (basin management) of Water Resources Department, Union Ministry of Jal Sakthi, stated.
Senior panel counsel for the Central government K Srinivasa Murthy filed the counter-affidavit before the first bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy which is hearing a petition filed by DMK MP S Ramalingam challenging the authority of the Centre and competence of Parliament to legislate on dams.
Rebuffing the statements of the MP, the affidavit noted the Act was necessitated by the fact that States cannot legislate beyond their territories and dam safety is of ‘pan-India interest’ and ‘concern’; so it is imperative for the Parliament to exercise its prerogative and its legislative competence under Article 246 read with Entry 56 and 97 of List-I to legislate on the subject.
Entry 17 of State List does not act as an embargo for the Parliament to legislate on the issue of dam safety and Entry 97 of Constitution gives Parliament the power to legislate on any other matter not enumerated in Lists II and III and dam safety has not been enumerated in Lists II and III. The Centre told the court that adequate representation for State governments has been provided in the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS) for considering the view points of States while formulating policies and dam safety procedures etc. The functioning of Central Dam Safety Organisation (CDSO) and NCDS is limited to an advisory role without powers for actual enforcement, it said.
Pointing out that there are 5,334 large dams while another 411 are under construction, the Centre said 227 dams are more than 100 years old, and proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance is necessary to ensure safety and prevent dam failure-related disasters.