Evolving safety protocols for dams

The Dam Safety Bill of 2018 addresses the concerns raised about the safety of over 5,200 large dams in India and about 450 which are under construction. A lack of legal and institutional architecture for dam safety raises fears about unsafe dams, and the possibility of consequent disasters and loss of life and property.

The Bill, approved by the Union Cabinet last month, proposes uniform dam safety procedures. It provides for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams and the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety to evolve safety policies and recommend necessary regulations. Also envisaged is the establishment of a National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety. The Bill proposes the constitution of State-level committees on dam safety.

The legislation addresses procedures concerning dam safety, including regular inspection of dams, emergency action plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, instrumentation and safety manuals. In fact, it lays the onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions.

The National Dam Safety Authority is to liaison with the State Dam Safety Organisations and the owners of dams for standardisation of safety-related data and practices. This authority shall provide technical and managerial assistance to the States and State Dam Safety Organisations, and maintain a national level database of dams and the records of major dam failures. It shall examine the cause of any major dam failure and publish and update the standard guidelines and check-lists for the routine inspection and detailed investigations of dams and appurtenances.

The National Authority is empowered to examine unresolved points of issue between the State Dam Safety Organisations of two States, or between the State Dam Safety Organisation of a State and the owner of a dam in that State.

At the level of the States, State Committees on Dam Safety will ensure proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in that State and ensure their safe functioning. These State Dam Safety Organisations are to be manned by officers from the field, preferably with expertise in dam-designs, hydro-mechanical engineering, hydrology, geo-technical investigation, instrumentation and dam rehabilitation.

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