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6th January Current Affairs

Constitutional Validity of Dam Safety Act challenged

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

A DMK MO from Lok Sabha has moved the Madras High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Dam Safety Act, 2021 on the grounds that it goes against federalism and is beyond the legislative competence of the Centre.

The Dam Safety Bill was passed recently in Rajya sabha.

Concerns raised:

The bill is too focused on structural safety and not on operational safety.

There is inadequate compensation to the people affected by dams.

There is need for an independent regulator as well as for a precise definition of stakeholders.

How the law goes against the spirit of federalism?

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.

Under the constitution, dams would squarely fall within the legislative domain of State governments. The power of the Centre under Entry 56 of List I (Union list) was only with respect to inter-State rivers or river valleys and nothing more, he asserted.

Why Centre is in favour of this Bill?

Though the subject does not fall under the purview of Parliament, the Centre has decided to introduce this bill mainly because dam safety is an issue of concern in the country. And there are no legal and institutional safeguards in this regard.

Highlights of Dam Safety Bill, 2019:

The Bill provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.

The Bill provides for 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.

The Bill provides for establishment of 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.

The Bill provides for constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by State Government.

Significance:

The Bill 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 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 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.

Consumer Protection Rules, 2021

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

In exercise of its powers under provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, the Central Government has notified the Consumer Protection (Jurisdiction of the District Commission, the State Commission and the National Commission) Rules, 2021.

The new rules revised pecuniary jurisdiction for entertaining consumer complaints.

Overview of the new rules:

Food and Public Distribution, district commissions will have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid does not exceed ₹50 lakh.

The State commissions can look onto complaints in the range of ₹50 lakh- ₹two crores.

The District Commissions will have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where value of the goods or services paid as consideration does not exceed 50 lakh rupees.

State Commissions shall have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds 50 lakh rupees but does not exceed two crore rupees, it notified.

National Commission will have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds two crore rupees.

Mechanism for the protection of consumer rights:

Currently, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 promulgates a three-tier quasi-judicial mechanism for redressal of consumer disputes namely district commissions, state commissions and national commission.

The Act also stipulates the pecuniary jurisdiction of each tier of consumer commission.

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 provides consumers the option of filing complaint electronically. To facilitate consumers in filing their complaint online, the Central Government has set up the E-Daakhil Portal.

To provide a faster and amicable mode of settling consumer disputes, the Act also includes reference of consumer disputes to Mediation, with the consent of both parties.

Time period for disposal of complaints:

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 stipulates that “every complaint shall be disposed of as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of three months from the date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within 5 months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.”

Multi Agency Centre (MAC)

(GS-III: Important Security Agencies)

In News:

The Union government has asked the States to share more intelligence inputs through the Multi Agency Centre (MAC).

Need for:

States are often reluctant to share information on the platform.

There are several gaps in sharing critical information at the right time.

Plans are afoot for more than a decade to link the system up to the district level.

About MAC:

It is a common counter-terrorism grid under the Intelligence Bureau that was made operational in 2001 following the Kargil War.

As many as 28 organisations, including the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), armed forces and State police, are part of the platform.

Various security agencies share real-time intelligence inputs on the MAC.

Now functioning 24/7 as the nodal body for sharing intelligence inputs, MAC coordinates with representatives from numerous agencies, different ministries, both central and state.

Do you know about the NATGRID?

First conceptualised in 2009, NATGRID seeks to become the one-stop destination for security and intelligence agencies to access database related to immigration entry and exit, banking and telephone details of a suspect on a “secured platform”.

Mullaperiyar dam issue

(GS-II: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions)

In News:

An application has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking appropriate direction to Government of Tamil Nadu to construct a new dam as also augment the storage capacity of the Vaigai dam downstream or to take such steps to strengthen the Mullaperiyar dam till an alternative dam is constructed.

Need for:

The petitioners said this is necessary to allay the fear of the millions whose lives are at risk in the event of the unthinkable, namely the collapse of the Mullaperiar dam and as a fallout the giving away of the Idukki dam which is certain to cause the loss of 35-40 lakhs of citizens in the five districts of Idukki, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam and Alappuzha, may wiping out of the city of Cochin.

Please note that both the states are at loggerheads over the stability of the structure, with Kerala demanding that a new dam must be constructed and Tamil Nadu saying that a new structure is not needed. Also, Kerala has been against increasing water levels at the dam, citing structural stability.

What has the Supreme Court Said?

Recently, the Supreme Court directed the Supervisory Committee to take an immediate and firm decision on the maximum water level that can be maintained at Mullaperiyar dam, amid torrential rain in Kerala.

The SC constituted a permanent Supervisory Committee in 2014 to oversee all the issues concerning Mullaperiyar dam. The dam is a source of friction between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Issue surrounding water level at the reservoir?

Kerala said the water level should not go above 139 feet, the same as what the court had ordered on August 24, 2018, when the State was hit by floods. It is because the lives of 50 lakh people would be in danger if the water level in the dam is raised.

However, Tamil Nadu objected to this decision citing the Supreme Court judgments of 2006 and 2014, which fixed the maximum water level at 142 feet.

Mullaperiyar Dam– what you need to know?

Although the dam is located in Kerala, it is operated by Tamil Nadu following an 1886 lease indenture for 999 years (the Periyar Lake Lease Agreement) that was signed between the Maharaja of Travancore and the Secretary of State for India for the Periyar Irrigation works.

Constructed between 1887 and 1895, the dam redirected the river to flow towards the Bay of Bengal, instead of the Arabian Sea and provide water to the arid rain region of Madurai in Madras Presidency.

The dam is located on the confluence of the Mullayar and Periyar rivers inKerala’s Idukki district.

What does Tamil Nadu say?

Tamil Nadu claims that although it has undertaken measures to strengthen the dam, the Kerala government has blocked any attempt to raise the reservoir water level – resulting in losses for Madurai farmers.

Kerala’s arguments:

Kerala, however, highlights fears of devastation by residents living downstream in the earthquake-prone district of Idukki.

Scientists have argued that if there is an earthquake in the region measuring above six on the Richter scale, the lives of over three million people will come under grave danger.