Feb 24, 2022

The Law and your Right to Pollution-Free Water

The Supreme Court has taken up a petition filed by Delhi Jal Board against the Haryana Government, seeking to immediately stop the discharge of pollutants in the Yamuna river. The Board has claimed that the dumping of untreated discharge in the Yamuna has spiked Ammonia levels in the river.


Which law regulates water pollution in India? 

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 provides for preventing and controlling water pollution, and maintaining or restoring the wholesomeness of water. For this purpose, the Act establishes Pollution Control Boards at the Central and State level  that are responsible for ensuring that the Act is implemented.


What is water pollution?

Water pollution refers to water contamination, or the discharge of any sewage, industrial effluent or other substances into water, which might make the water harmful to: 

  • Public health or safety;
  • Life and health of animals, plants or aquatic organisms; or
  • Domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or other uses.


Which water bodies are protected?

The Act regulates water pollution of streams, including:

  • Rivers
  • Water courses (whether flowing or temporarily dry)
  • Inland water (natural and artificial)
  • Subterranean waters
  • Sea or tidal waters (to an extent specified by the Government)


Prohibition of pollution

A person should not knowingly insert any of the following substances into a stream:

  • Any poisonous, noxious or polluting substance; or 
  • Substances which might restrict the proper flow of stream water in a way that leads to substantial aggravation of pollution. For example, when industrial waste is released into a stream and restricts its flow, this might result in increased water temperature affecting aquatic life. 


A person should take the consent of the State Pollution Control Board before taking any steps to establish an industry, operation or process which is likely to discharge sewage or industrial effluents into a stream or well.  


The punishment for violating these rules is imprisonment from one-and-a-half to six years, along with a fine.


Role of the State Board

The State Board can impose certain conditions before granting its consent, such as conditions on the discharge point of sewage. Every State Board must maintain a register containing details of the conditions imposed, and  the conditions in the register are proof that the consent was granted subject to such conditions.


If the State Board thinks that any poisonous, noxious or polluting substance is present in any stream, and believes it necessary to take immediate action, it may carry out required operations for:

  • Removing the substance from the stream and disposing it off in an appropriate manner 
  • Remedying or decreasing any pollution caused by the substance’s presence in the stream
  • Issuing orders immediately restraining the concerned person from discharging the substance.