AIADMK backtracks on dam safety bill
Tamil Nadu

AIADMK backtracks on dam safety bill

S Murari

After opposing from the very inception the Centre’s move for a national dam safety committee as an encroachment on States’ powers, the AIADMK on Friday only sought clarifications when the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha while the DMK registered its objection.

During the debate, AIADMK member Raveendranath Kumar sought clarification from Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekawat on what sort of control the proposed national committee would have over dams situated in one state and controlled by another like the four  dams in Kerala owned and maintained by Tamil Nadu.

He said the Supreme Court in May 2014 had already confirmed that Mullaperiyar, Parambikulam, Thunnakadavu and Peravirapallam dams in Kerala are owned by Tamil Nadu. He wanted to know what kind of powers the State dam safety committee would have over these dams as this bill envisaged vesting control on the National Dam Safety Authority.

The DMK’s A Raja on the other hand categorically opposed the bill as yet another encroachment on State powers by the Modi Government and said it was against federalism.

Revolutionary Socialist Party member from Kerala N K Premachandran supported the bill. Raveendranath Kumar’s wishy-washy stand is against the consistent opposition by the AIADMK every since the bill was mooted in December 2018 and the Cabinet approved it in June this year.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in June, demanding that the bill be kept in abeyance till a consensus was reached. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard.

The Centre brushed aside the State’s concern and went ahead and got the bill passed. Minister Shekhawat, however, maintained that the Centre had no intention to take over the powers of States in this regard and the new law was only to ensure uniform safety standards and better maintenance of dams.

Noting that the existing organisations on dam safety only had an advisory role, he said some dams were being jointly managed by States but there were instances of vast difference in the way they were performing the task.

The bill seeks to address various issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, emergency action plan, adequate repair and maintenance funds, and instrumentation and the safety manuals.

The bill lays onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for commission and omission of certain acts. This is the second time in the current session of Parliament that the AIADMK has flip-flopped for fear offending the BJP.

Earlier Raveendranath opposed the triple talaq in the Lok Sabha. However, AIADMK leader Naveenatha Krishnan opposed it in the Rajya Sabha, apparently with an eye on Muslim votes in Vellore where countermanded lok Sabha poll is due on Aug 5.

It remains to be seen as to what stand the AIADMK will take when the bill comes before the Rajya Sabha.