Constitutional validity of Dam Safety Act challenged in HC

It blatantly usurps States’ power, says DMK MP

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Lok Sabha member S. Ramalingam, representing Mayiladuthurai constituency in Tamil Nadu, 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.

Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu on Tuesday accepted a request made by senior counsel P. Wilson for an early hearing of the case and directed the Registry to list the matter for January 10. The counsel said he would, by then, serve papers on Additional Solicitor General R. Sankaranarayanan.

In an affidavit filed in support of his petition, the Member of Parliament wrote: “The impugned (under challenge) Act is a legislation passed by the Union through brute majority to blatantly usurp the States’ power in broad day light when legislators like myself were helpless to prevent the violence done to the Constitution.”

Nevertheless, reposing utmost faith and belief in the High Court that it would certainly annul the “unconstitutional” law by exercising the power of judicial review, the litigant claimed that the Act usurped the power of the State governments and placed the operation of specified dams under the control of the Centre.

He contended that certain terms, including the word ‘dam’ in the Act, had been deliberately defined vaguely to give unbridled power to the Centre to treat any dam as a ‘specified dam’. He also feared that if those definitions were followed, almost all dams in the country would fall under the purview of the Act.

Referring to Entries 17, 18 and 35 of List II (State list) of the seventh schedule of the Constitution, the petitioner contended that 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.

“Entry 56 cannot be stretched to include dams and embankments exclusively within the control of the States. Parliament cannot make a declaration in relation to a subject matter of List II entries when such power is conspicuously absent in List I subjects. Power over the subject ‘interstate river and river valley’ cannot be confused with the control over dams,” the MP said.

Claiming that the State governments would be in a better position than the Centre to take a call on dam safety, the legislator told the court that the Act under challenge, if not nullified, would have an adverse impact on agriculture, fisheries, hydro power generation, provision of drinking water to the people and so on.

He also pointed out that the Act provided for criminal prosecution for not obeying directives issued under the legislation. “State authorities have to face the music under Section 41 if the directions of the Union authorities are not obeyed… Bureaucrats will now be kept under fear and threat which will lead to mechanical compliance of the dictates of the Union Government,” he lamented.

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