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With Jal Shakti in place, time to give Shakti to Dam Safety

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New Delhi, June 03: Narendra Modi government has formed a new 'Jal Shakti' Ministry by merging the ministries of Water Resources and Drinking Water and Sanitation and appointed Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as its Minister.

During the 2019 election campaign, Modi had promised to form an integrated ministry dealing with water issues.

With Jal Shakti in place, time to give Shakti to Dam Safety

The ministry will deal with international and inter-states water disputes, the Namami Gange project, and the government's ambitious plans to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024.

Apart from it, one of the main challenges for Shekhawat would be to pass the Dam Safety Bill, 2018, which was introduced in Lok Sabha by former Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Jairam Gadkari on December 12, 2018. The Bill, which also has shortcomings, provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of specified dams across the country. The Bill also provides for the institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams.

The issue of dam safety came to the forefront after the recent Kerala floods.

India ranks third globally with 5,264 large dams in operation and about 437 are under construction. Out of the operational dams, 75 per cent are over 25-year-old. Majority of the dams have exceeded their lifespan and around 200 large dams are over 100-year-old.

The Dam Safety in India becomes most important because a large number of population lives nearby dams.

Till date India has witnessed about 36 dam failures, out of which nine happened after 2001.

A promise delivered: Modi forms Jal Shakti ministry

Though the Central Water Commission (CWC) had hurriedly given a clean chit to the dams during August 2018 Kerala flood, the experts didn't buy the clean chit and maintained dams in fact worsened the flood situation in the state.

The Dam Safety Bill, 2018 provides for the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety, National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), and State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), to be formed by the state governments.

The Bill says that while the SDSOs will take care of the specified dams in their respective states, the NDSA will act as the SDSO if a dam is owned by one state but situated in another state; extends over multiple states; or is owned by a central public sector undertaking.

The above-mentioned provision has become a bone of contention between states and the Centre as a number of States have already expressed apprehensions about the Bill. Tamil Nadu has opposed it, fearing that the dams owned and operated by it would come under the purview of the National Dam Safety Authority and that Kerala would also get access to the dam and information about it. The other States fear that the Centre may take control over all their dams.

The Modi government will have to bring all the states and the Centre on a table to work in the public interest. For, the people at risk are the biggest stakeholders of the Dam Safety Bill.

Therefore, the experts are of the opinion that the dam safety should not be left at the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats and the government should include impartial experts in National Committee on Dam Safety, National Dam Safety Authority, and State Dam Safety Organisations to correct the lacunas of the Dam Safety Bill, 2018.

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