In perhaps her first such communiqué to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has strongly expressed her unhappiness at the draft Dam Safety Bill, 2016, that provides for inspection and operation of all dams of certain parameters to ensure their safe functioning.
Drawing the PM’s attention to lacunae in the proposed legislation, Jayalalithaa pointed out that none of the views she had conveyed on the earlier Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2010 by the then UPA government, appeared to have been considered while preparing the present draft Bill.
Picking holes in the draft, she said the provisions to entitle the State Dam Safety Organisation to have the jurisdiction over all the dams located in a state, irrespective of who owns, operates and maintains the dam, are unacceptable.
“Since the draft Bill covers an area which falls in large measure within the legislative competence of States, Government of India must desist from needless adventurism and not ride rough shod over the federal constitutional framework,” the letter reads.
The draft Dam Safety Bill, 2016 was circulated by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation for the comments of the state governments.
She said that there is no pressing necessity for a central legislation on the issue as state governments have necessary expertise.
“I am of the view that since the State governments have adequate expertise and experience on Dam Safety and as the Central Water Commission is also associated with dam safety aspects, there appears to be no pressing need or necessity to have Central legislation on the issue,” she said.
If the bill becomes a law, the Central body will have a say in dams like the one on Mullaiperiyar - located in Kerala, but owned and maintained by Tamil Nadu, she said.
"There are established rights under pre-existing long term agreements which require that certain dams in a State are operated and maintained by another state. Tamil Nadu's Mullai Periyar, Parambikulam, Thunakkadavu and Peruvarippallam Dams are owned, operated and maintained by the government of Tamil Nadu by virtue of inter-state agreements, but are located in a neighbouring state," she pointed out.
She said the present draft law, by oversight or deliberate design, cannot and should not overturn such rights, which would affect a large number of farmers and households depending on the reservoirs for irrigation and drinking water supply.
Jayalalithaa said the provision in the draft Dam Safety Bill, to authorise the Dam Safety Organisation of the state where the dam is located to inspect and investigate the specified dams and suggest remedial measures for repair and reconstruction, will be against the Supreme Court's verdict in the Mullaperiyar Dam.
She said the apex court had categorically asserted the ownership of Tamil Nadu on Mullaperiyar Dam and entrusted its maintenance and upkeep to the state.
She also appealed to PM Modi to direct the Minister of Water Resources to reconsider the need for the proposed legislation on dam safety and not to proceed ‘in haste’ without addressing TN’s concerns.