As per 2019 figures, India has 5,745 large dams, nearly 300 of them more than 100 years old, and at least another 1,000 such structures of 50-100 years’ vintage. Hence the pressing need for mechanism design for their structural rehabilitation and operational safety. It is true that 18 states and five dam-owning bodies have their own Dam Safety Organisation (DSO), but in the absence of a central law, dam safety norms have tended to vary from state to state. Water is in the State List as per the Constitution, but Entry 56 in the Union List does enable the Centre to bring forth legislation for regulation of inter-state river waters and river valleys.
The Dam Safety Act calls for oversight of ‘surveillance, inspection, operations and maintenance’ of all large dams. A national committee on dam safety is to be set up, together with a National Dam Safety Authority. Further, each state is to form its committee on dam safety, along with a state dam safety organisation. We need modern information technology tools for 24×7 surveillance of large dams, by installing sensors and by purposefully leveraging our satellite communications infrastructure.
In tandem, we need to have in place an advanced forecasting network to better manage sluice gates. Global warming and rising variability in rainfall call for heightened capacity for storage reservoirs, focused watershed management and regular maintenance.