Interstate River Water Dispute

Dam Safety Act can end disputes, says Supreme Court


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Dam Safety Act

Mains level: Resolution of Mullaperiyar Dam Row

The Supreme Court has found in the Dam Safety Act of 2021 a panacea to end the “perennial” legal battle between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam.

What is the Dam Safety Act, 2021?

  • The Act comprehensively postulates for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of dams to prevent disasters.
  • Its key features are as follows:
  1. National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS): It will be constituted and will be chaired by the chairperson, Central Water Commission. Its’ functions will include formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures, analyzing the causes of major dam failures, and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.
  2. National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA): It will be headed by an officer, not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, to be appointed by the central government. The main task of this authority includes implementing the policies formulated by the NCD, resolving issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or between an SDSO and any dam owner in that state, specifying regulations for inspection and investigation of dams.
  3. State Dam Safety Organisation (SDSO): Its functions will be to keep perpetual surveillance, inspection, monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams, keeping a database of all dams, and recommending safety measures to owners of dams.
  4. Dam Safety Unit: The owners of the specified dams are required to provide a dam safety unit in each dam. This unit will inspect the dams before and after the monsoon session, and during and after any calamity or sign of distress.
  5. Emergency Action Plan: Dam owners will be required to prepare an emergency action plan, and carry out risk assessment studies for each dam at specified regular intervals.
  6. Certain offences: The act provides for two types of offences – obstructing a person in the discharge of his functions, and refusing to comply with directions issued under the proposed law.

Why in news?

  • Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been trading charges against each other over the safety, operation and maintenance of the Mullaperiyar dam.
  • While Kerala claims the 126-year-old dam is unsafe, badly maintained and a threat to thousands of people living downstream, Tamil Nadu denies it.
  • Kerala is pitching for a new dam in place of the existing one, while Tamil Nadu, which operates and maintains the reservoir, argues that the dam is well-preserved and so strong that the height water level could even be increased to 152 feet.

What did the SC say?

  • A few days ago, the Supreme Court was in search of an answer to the “perennial problem” between the two neighbours over the dam.
  • It had mooted the idea of extending the powers of its own supervisory committee to take over charge of the safety and maintenance of the structure and its site.
  • The Bench even wondered whether the supervisory committee should now continue as the 2021 Act has made it redundant.
  • However, Kerala said the Centre was yet to appoint specialists to the NDSA.


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