• The Parliament has cleared the Dam Safety Bill, 2019 for surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams across the country.


  • Applicability of the Bill: The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country. These are dams with: (i) height more than 15 metres, or (ii) height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions.
  • National Committee on Dam Safety: The National Committee on Dam Safety will be constituted and will be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission. All other members will be nominated by the central government, and include: (ii) up to 10 representatives of the central government, (iii) up to seven representatives of the state governments (by rotation), and (iv) up to three dam safety experts.
  • Functions of the Committee include: (i) formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures, and (ii) analysing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices.
  • National Dam Safety Authority: The National Dam Safety Authority will be headed by an officer, not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, who will be appointed by the central government. Functions of the Authority include: (i) implementing the policies formulated by the National Committee on Dam Safety, (ii) resolving issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), or between a SDSO and any dam owner in that state, (iii) specifying regulations for inspection and investigation of dams, and (iv) providing accreditation to agencies working on construction, design, and alteration of dams.
  • State Dam Safety Organisation: State governments will establish State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs). All specified dams situated in a state will fall under the jurisdiction of that state’s SDSO
  • Obligations of dam owners: Owners of specified dams are required to provide a dam safety unit in each dam. This unit will inspect the dams: (i) before and after the monsoon session, and (ii) during and after every earthquake, flood, or any other calamity or sign of distress. Dam owners will be required to prepare an emergency action plan, and carry out risk assessment studies for each dam at specified regular intervals.  Dam owners will also be required to prepare a comprehensive dam safety evaluation of each dam, at regular intervals, through a panel of experts.  The evaluation will be mandatory in certain cases such as major modification of the original structure, or an extreme hydrological or seismic event.


  • Dam safety, according to the Central Water Commission (CWC), is crucial for maintaining the sustainable benefits derived from such projects apart from ensuring national water security, among other things.
  • The ageing of dam assets, according to the Central Water Commission (CWC), raises major concerns about their safety in terms of fulfilling current standards.
  • Dam safety is particularly vital for protecting the massive public investment in this essential physical infrastructure, as well as assuring the continuation of benefits derived from dam developments and national water security, as stipulated by the CWC. According to the CWC, dam safety is especially vital given the evolving context of India’s water issue, which is connected to its expanding population as well as climate change.
  • The Supreme Court in Alaknanda Hydropower Co. Ltd. Vs Anuj Joshi[ii], held that dam safety and protection is critical, since its failure may result in catastrophic environmental disaster as well as loss of lives and property.
    • The Court highlighted that dam safety is a top priority for the State Government in our country.
    • Investigation, planning, design, building, and operation are all tasks that the state government must do.
    • When a hydroelectric project is being constructed, the public’s safety and protection are paramount, and it is critical to have all safety standards in place so that the public can trust to get protected from risks they are concerned about, as well as to avoid serious long-term or irrevocable ecological impacts.
  • The Court also raised questions whether the tragedies in Uttarakhand on June 16, 2013, and the flooding of the Alaknanda River, had impacted the project’s safety and called for investigation by the State and Dam Safety Authority.
  • Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Union Jal Shakti Minister, stated in August 2019 while introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha that 40 dams have fallen in the nation since Independence.
  • The collapse of the Machhu dam in Gujarat in 1979 was one of the deadliest tragedies in history, killing thousands of people.
    • In the aftermath of the tragedy, numerous states and public sector undertakings (PSUs) owning dams in the nation, established their own Dam Safety Organizations (DSOs) and since then have implemented dam safety measures in their jurisdictions.
  • Approximately around 18 states and five Dam-owning organizations have formed their own Dam Safety Organizations (DSOs), including the Bhakra Beas Management Board, Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam, Damodar Valley Corporation, Kerala State Electricity Board, and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.However, in the absence of a federal law, safety rules differ from state to state.


  • The number of dams is expected to rise in the future years as India builds additional dams to fulfil its expanding energy and water demands. However, when dams are built, they put downstream regions at danger of catastrophic floods in case the dam breaks or if water has to be released in an emergency. To mitigate this risk, risk-based decision-making methods must be used to make policies while simultaneously implementing and managing them.
  • Earlier, there was no legal necessity to undertake a consequence analysis to assess the possible loss of lives and property, as well as the economic harm, if a dam fails. Dam design regulations now in place are predicated on the heights and storage capacity of dams rather than the risk they pose. In addition, there was no centralized mechanism for documenting and reporting actual dam collapses, which form an important part of dam risk reduction, up until this Bill.
  • Therefore, the Bill provides for putting in place mechanisms for performing frequent dam break studies, reporting dam collapse incidents on a regular basis, and making such data readily available to the public is a critical prerequisite for the creation of risk-based decision-making systems to minimize dam risk.

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