Dam Safety Act 2021: Implementation Challenges

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In recent news, the Dam Safety Act (DSA) in India has come under scrutiny due to its role in addressing dam-related disasters. India has a substantial number of large dams, with many of them being quite old and posing significant safety risks. The passage of the DSA in late 2021 aimed to address these concerns, but recent events, such as the Teesta III dam failure in North Sikkim, have raised questions about the Act’s effectiveness.

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This topic of “Dam Safety Act 2021: Implementation Challenges” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Provisions of the Dam Safety Act

The Dam Safety Act, enacted in response to dam failure-related disasters, introduced several key provisions:

National and State-level Bodies

  1. National Committee on Dam Safety: Responsible for overseeing dam safety policies and regulations at the national level.
  2. National Dam Safety Authority: Charged with implementation and resolution of State-level disputes related to dam safety.
  3. Chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC): Heads dam safety protocols at the national level.
  4. State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS): To be established in each state.
  5. State Dam Safety Organisation (SDSO): Created to handle dam safety matters at the state level.
  6. Sikkim’s SCDS: An example of a state committee established with nine members and experts in hydrology and dam design.

State Responsibilities

The DSA places various responsibilities on states, including:

  • Dams Classification: States are required to classify dams based on hazard risk.
  • Regular Inspections: Conduct regular inspections of dams to ensure their safety.
  • Emergency Action Plans: Create emergency action plans for swift responses in case of potential dam failures.
  • Flood Warning Systems: Institute emergency flood warning systems to mitigate risks.
  • Safety Reviews and Risk Assessment: Undertake safety reviews and periodic risk assessment studies to identify potential hazards.

Reporting Incidents

The Act also mandates that states report and record incidents of dam failures, ensuring better tracking and data management in this regard.

Consequences of Non-compliance

Non-compliance with any provision of the Act can lead to serious consequences:

  • Imprisonment and Fines: Entities failing to comply may face imprisonment and/or fines.
  • Loss of Lives: If non-compliance results in the loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, the responsible entity can face imprisonment for up to two years.
  • Legal Action Example: The Sikkim High Court ordered the Gati Hydropower Project company to pay ₹70 lakh to two widowed mothers as a penalty for non-compliance with the Dam Safety Act.

Challenges in Dam Safety Implementation

While the Dam Safety Act represents a step forward in addressing dam safety concerns, several challenges persist:

Lack of Risk-based Decision-making

The DSA does not adequately promote risk-based decision-making, which is crucial for preventing dam-related disasters. This absence of risk assessment can lead to inadequate safety measures and preparedness.

Transparency Issues

Transparency is a significant issue in India’s dam safety framework:

  • Limited Accessibility: Information related to dam safety, committee decisions, and reports are not readily available to the public.
  • Government Involvement: National and State bodies often consist of government employees and engineers involved in dam projects, potentially compromising objectivity and independent decision-making.

Comprehensive Safety Evaluation

The Act requires dam builders to conduct comprehensive dam safety evaluations, but there is a lack of standardization in how these evaluations are performed and reported. This inconsistency can hinder the effectiveness of safety measures.

Inadequate Periodic Reviews

Periodic reviews, including spillway capacity assessments, are essential for dam safety. However, these reviews are often not conducted, and their findings are not easily accessible to the public.

Recent Non-compliance Cases

Instances of non-compliance with the DSA have been reported, such as the Himachal Pradesh government issuing notices to 21 hydroelectric projects for not adhering to the Act during flood events in July-August.

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The Way Forward

To address the concerns surrounding the Dam Safety Act and ensure the safety of India’s dams, several steps can be taken:

  1. Enhanced Risk Assessment: Implement a robust risk assessment framework to identify potential hazards and prioritize safety measures based on risk levels.
  2. Transparency Measures: Improve transparency by making dam safety information, committee decisions, and reports readily available to the public.
  3. Standardized Evaluations: Develop standardized protocols for conducting comprehensive dam safety evaluations to ensure consistency and effectiveness.
  4. Regular Periodic Reviews: Enforce regular periodic reviews, including spillway capacity assessments, to keep dams up to date with changing conditions.
  5. Strict Enforcement: Strengthen enforcement mechanisms to ensure that entities comply with the Dam Safety Act, with penalties that reflect the seriousness of non-compliance.
  6. Public Awareness: Educate the public about dam safety measures, emergency plans, and the importance of reporting incidents to enhance overall safety preparedness.

In conclusion, the Dam Safety Act in India is a crucial piece of legislation aimed at addressing dam safety concerns. However, there are notable challenges in its implementation, including issues related to risk assessment, transparency, and periodic reviews. To ensure the safety of India’s dams and prevent future disasters, it is imperative to take proactive measures, strengthen enforcement, and prioritize transparency and risk-based decision-making in dam safety practices.

Practice Question for Mains

Discuss the provisions and challenges associated with the Dam Safety Act in India. What steps can be taken to enhance dam safety and prevent future disasters?

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