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Dam Safety Act:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Government Policies and associated issues.



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’s the issue?

  • 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.


Linkages between Dam Safety Act and the Mullaperiyar dam:

  • As per the Act, the NDSA will perform the role of the State Dam Safety Organisation for a dam located in one State and used by another. Hence, the Mullaperiyar dam comes under the purview of the NDSA.
  • Experts believe that there is every possibility of the Union government will indicate in the court that the NDSA can subsume the functions of the supervisory committee.


Know more about the Mullaperiyar Issue here.


Highlights of Dam Safety Act:

  • It provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.
  • It provides for the constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.
  • It provides for the establishment of the National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.
  • It provides for the constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by the State Government.



  • It will help all the States and Union Territories of India to adopt uniform dam safety procedures which shall ensure safety of dams and safeguard benefits from such dams. This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
  • It addresses all issues 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.
  • It lays the onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for commission and omission of certain acts.


Need for:

  • Over the last fifty years, India has invested substantially in dams and related infrastructures, and ranks third after the USA and China in the number of large dams. 5254 large dams are in operation in the country currently and another 447 are under construction.
  • In addition to this, there are thousands of medium and small dams.
  • While dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural growth and development in India, there has been a long felt need for a uniform law and administrative structure for ensuring dam safety.
  • The Central Water Commission, through the National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS), Central Dam Safety Organization (CDSO) and State Dam Safety Organizations (SDSO) has been making constant endeavours in this direction, but these organizations do not have any statutory powers and are only advisory in nature.
  • This can be a matter of concern, especially since about 75 percent of the large dams in India are more than 25 years old and about 164 dams are more than 100 years old.
  • A badly maintained, unsafe dam can be a hazard to human life, flora and fauna, public and private assets and the environment.
  • India has had 42 dam failures in the past.


Concerns raised:

  • The Act is too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.
  • There is inadequate compensation to the people affected by dams.
  • There is a need for an independent regulator as well as for a precise definition of stakeholders.
  • Many states say it encroaches upon the sovereignty of States to manage their dams, and violates the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution.
  • They see it as an attempt by the Centre to consolidate power in the guise of safety concerns.



Prelims Link:

  1. Dam Safety Act.
  2. Dam Safety Authority.
  3. Highlights of Dam Safety.
  4. Dam Safety in India.
  5. DRIP Project.

Sources: the Hindu.


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