What is water pollution?

Water pollution is the contamination of water, i.e. changing of the physical, chemical or biological properties of water or the emission of sewage or industrial discharge. It includes the introduction of any solid, liquid or gaseous pollutant into water (either directly or indirectly) which would make water toxic and injurious to the health of the public or for domestic, commercial, agricultural or other important purposes or be unsafe and harmful to the life and health of plants, animals and aquatic organisms1.

Causes of water pollution include:

i. Solid water pollutant. For example, plastic waste, metals, food and animal remains.

ii. Liquid water pollutant. For example, sewage, human waste and industrial waste water.

iii. Gaseous water pollutant. For example, methane, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide.

  1. Section 2(e), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]

What are the rights a person has under this law?

The right to healthy environment1 for all persons is a part of the Right to Life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This includes the right to pollution free water23.  People have a right to seek remedy for anything which endangers or impairs the quality of life under Article 21 i.e., interferes with the clean water or pollutes water, in violation of the laws,  under Article 32 of the Constitution4.

Article 48A and Article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India, place a duty on the State as well as every citizen of India to improve and protect the environment including rivers and lakes from pollution.

  1. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P, (1985) 2 SCC 431 : AIR 1985 SC 652.[]
  2. A.P. Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Nayadu II, (1999) 2 SCC 247 : AIR 1999 SC 912; Mrs. Susetha v. State of T.N., (2006) 6 SCC 543; Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, (2000) 10 SCC 664; Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, (1991) 1 SCC 598 : AIR 1991 SC 420.[]
  3. T. Damodhar Rao v. S.O. Municipal Board, AIR 1987 AP 171; Chhetriya Pradushan Mukti Sangarsh Samiti v. State of U.P., (1990) 4 SCC 449 : AIR 1990 SC 2060; T.N. Godavarnam Thirumalpad v. Union of India, (2002) 10 SCC 606.[]
  4. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar , AIR 1991 SC 420.[]

What is the responsibility of industries to prevent water pollution?

The Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards fix industry specific standards on water pollution. An industry or business establishment has to take prior permission of the Pollution Control Board of their State to set up any plant or begin operations that can discharge sewage or trade effluent into a stream, well, sewer or on land. It is mandatory to report any modifications like use of any new or modified outlets for the discharge of sewage or making a new discharge of sewage, to the Board1.   Industries must cooperate with the Board for any inspection and adhere to the conditions imposed relating to any discharge outlet and standards on emissions of effluents that can be causes of water pollution.

  1.  Section 25, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]

What are the offences under this law?

Crime  Law Punishment 
Prohibition on use of stream or well for disposing polluting matter Intentionally polluting or allowing the entry of poisonous, harmful, contaminating material into any stream, sewer or land1 Or Allowing the introduction of any matter that might obstruct the flow of the water or stream, which can make pollution worse as a cause or of its consequences2 is prohibited.
Except if the State Government (after consultation with the State Board) has excused any persons from meeting these conditions. 3 
The punishment is jail time for one and half years up to six years, with fine. 4
Failure to comply with the directions of the State Board When a person or industry fails to follow the directions that the the State Boards have given about: the flow of volume of discharge into the water stream and provide the information required5 the installation, construction or operation of a disposal system for any establishment for preventing and controlling water pollution 6 The punishment is jail time for three months and fine upto Rs. 10,000, which if the failure to comply continues, attracts an additional fine of Rs. 5,000 per day.  7
Failure to follow the any order of the Board with respect to emergency measure or a direction of the Courts 

Other Acts

Failure to abide by any order of the State Board for immediately restraining or forbidding a person from discharging poisonous, harmful or contaminating matter into a stream or well or land or making it unclean for use8
Failure to follow an order of the Court for restraining polluting activities9
Failure to follow any direction made by the Central Government about water pollution10
If the failure to follow the above-mentioned orders and direction continues for more than one year, after the date of initial conviction. 11
If a person-destroys, pulls down, removes, injures, demolishes any pillar, post or pole, that is fixed in the ground or any notice is placed upon it or any matter is inscribed on it or placed by it or is under the authority of the Board. or Obstructs any other person, who is performing the orders or directions of the Board, from exercising their functions under law. Damaging any property belonging to the Board. Fails to provide information required to any officer of the Board Fails to inform the Board or other agencies of any accident or incident which results in discharge of excess effluents into the water bodies. Fails to provide information required of them for the purposes of reducing and preventing water pollution or intentionally making false statements. Makes false statements about the discharge outlets and standards of effluents, to get the consent of the Board . 12
The punishment is jail time for one year and six months, which might extend to six years with fine. An additional fine of Rs. 5000 per day, can also be levied if the failure to comply continues. 13

The punishment is jail time for two to seven years, with fine. 14

The punishment is jail time upto six months with a fine of Rs. 10,000.12

Operation or establishment of an industry without the consent of the Board If an industry or its operations or any treatment or disposal plant is established without the prior permission of the State Board15, Or Any industry or process discharges sewage or effluents into the water stream or well or sewer or land, in excess of the standards laid down by the State Board and without the Board’s consent. 16 The punishment is jail time of two to six years with fine17. Furthermore, a higher water cess can be levied. 18

The punishment is jail time for one year and six months up to six years with fine.19
If a person is found guilty under this provision, more than once, then there would be stronger punishment for the second and every subsequent conviction.20

Acts for which no punishment has been laid down by law Any other polluting acts or acts that contaminate water bodies or acts which restrict the prevention and control of water pollution or affect water purity The punishment is jail time upto three months with a fine of Rs. 10000. On Continued contravention of law, an additional fine of Rs. 5000 will also be levied. 21
Environmental pollution: pollution of air, water or land Violation of any provision of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 i.e pollution of air, water or land or any harm to the environment. The punishment is jail time upto 5 years and a fine that may extend to one lakh rupees. Continued failure to comply with the law will lead to an additional fine of Rs. 5000 for every day of non-compliance.22
Contaminating public spring or water reservoir If a person intentionally and voluntarily, contaminates or pollutes the water of a public spring or reservoir, in order to make it unfit for use or consumption 23)) The punishment is jail time upto three months and fine upto Rs. 500 or both. 23
Releasing of harmful pollutants  into the environment Releasing harmful pollutants into the environment forms is inclusive of water pollution and forms part of the offence of public nuisance24 The  punishment is a  fine of Rs. 500.25
Engaging in activities that are harmful to the health and physical comfort of the community  Operating industries and other processes that pollute water bodies and groundwater, and which  cause harmful health issues as well as discomfort to the people. This includes any conduct of any such trade or business that is harmful and causes imminent danger to the health of the people and threatens their physical discomfort.26 An order under Section 133 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for removal of nuisance can be passed by the Magistrate to stop such activities
  1. Section 24(1)(a), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974[]
  2.  Section 24(1)(b), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  3. Section 24(3),The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  4. Section 43, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  5. Section 20(2), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  6. Section 20(3), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  7. Section 41(1), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  8. Section 32(1)(c),The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  9. Section 33(2), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974[]
  10. Section 33A, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 19[]
  11. Section 41(3), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  12. Section 42, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[][]
  13.  Section 41(2), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  14.  Section 41(3), The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  15.  Section 25, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  16. Section 26, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  17. Section 44,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  18. Schedule II, The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977.[]
  19. Section 45, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  20. Section 45, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  21. Section 45A,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974[]
  22. Section 15, Environmental Protection Act, 1986.[]
  23. Section 277, Indian Penal Code 1860.[][]
  24. Ratlam Municipality v. Vardhi Chandra, 1980 AIR 1622.[]
  25. Section 290, Indian Penal code, 1860.[]
  26. Section 133, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.[]

Who are the authorities regulating water pollution under the law?

The main authorities for the purposes of regulating water pollution are:

i.                 The Central Pollution Control Board: It was constituted under law to prevent, control and abate water pollution1. It is responsible for organising programmes at the ground level and provides technical services to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Its primary purpose is to promote the cleanliness of streams and wells by preventing, controlling and abating water pollution.2 It resolves disputes among the State Boards and provides technical assistance to them. The Board also performs an advisory role to the Central Government on matters concerning the environment.

ii.                The State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committees for States and Union Territories are constituted3 to set the standards of effluents for industries and for determining whether something is ‘poisonous, noxious or polluting’ or ‘any other’ matter. The State Boards give permission for the setting up of industries and advise the State government with respect to the locations where industries are likely to cause water pollution.

iii.              Municipal Corporations or local authorities are concerned with the disposal of sewage and dumping of waste material.

  1.  Section 3,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  2. Central Pollution Control Board, accessed at:https://cpcb.nic.in/.[]
  3. Section 4,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]

Who can you complain to regarding a grievance under the law?

Police

You can file an FIR (First Information Report) at the nearest police station under Section 277 of the Indian Penal Code against a person or industry that is intentionally contaminating and corrupting the water of a public spring or reservoir.1 The person who is polluting the water can be punished with jail time and/or fine.

District Magistrate 

For immediate action, a person can directly complain to the District Magistrate by an application under Section 133 of Code of Criminal Procedure2. Under the law, the Magistrate has the power to issue a notice to the person or industry causing the pollution to remove such nuisance or stop the polluting activity.3

 State Pollution Control Boards

State Pollution Control Boards are responsible for redressal of water pollution complaints. You can file a complaint by visiting the regional offices of the State Pollution Control Board of the state or on the complaint portal available on its website. Now, grievances can also be communicated to the authorities via social media handles.

States like West Bengal have set up an Integrated Grievance Management system (IGMS)4 which lays down a comprehensive process for the filing of such complaints by way of a 24*7 helpline and the West Bengal Paribesh app5. Other states like Uttar Pradesh have introduced an online portal where complaints can be filed by filing a form.6

National Green TribunalCitizens can directly file cases of water pollution with the National Green Tribunal at: https://ngtonline.nic.in/efiling/mainPage.drt.  The complaint can be filed as an individual, advocate, a representative of a law firm or NGO or as a representative of the Government of India.

  1. Section 277, Indian Penal Code 1860.[]
  2.  Section 133, Code of Criminal Procedure,1973.[]
  3. Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhi Chand [AIR 1980 SC 1622.][]
  4. West Bengal Pollution Control Board, accessed at:  https://www.wbpcb.gov.in/public-grievance-redressal#.[]
  5. West Bengal Paribesh App (WBPCB), accessed at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=in.gov.wbpcb.paribeshapp.[]
  6. Public Grievance, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, accessed at: http://www.uppcb.com/public_grievances.htm.[]

What are the powers of the Central and State Pollution Control Boards to regulate water pollution?

Central Pollution Control Board

The Central Pollution Control Board has been constituted to prevent and control water pollution as well as maintain the wholesomeness of water.1 It has the power to direct the State Pollution Control Boards2. The Board, by law, can order the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process or stoppage or regulation of supply of electricity or water or any other services to the polluting or offending industry3. In addition to this, the Central Pollution Control Board, as a part of its function of Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, has the power to collect, compile and publish the technical and statistical data relating to water pollution.4

State Pollution Control Board

The State Pollution Control Boards have been entrusted with the power to lay down standards of discharge as well as the treatment of effluents into water bodies for all persons to comply, including body corporates. In order to achieve the aim of controlling and preventing water pollution, the state Pollution Control Boards have the power to:

i.    Obtain information: maintain records of the flow or volume of the effluents, carry out stream surveys and gather information regarding the disposal system from the industry or business establishment.5

ii.      Take samples of effluents, from any stream or well, for analysis.6

iii.      Enter and Inspect at any time to carry out the function of the Board or for examining the plant, records etc.7

iv.      Impose restrictions on new or modified discharge outlets.8

v.      Refuse or withdraw consent for the establishment of any industry or business.9

vi.      Carry out other works in connection with the direction of the Board.10

vii.     Perform emergency operation in the event of excess pollution of stream or well and dispose the polluting matter11

viii.     Apply to the Courts to restrain the polluting industry or restrict such polluting activity.12

Issue immediate orders of closure, prohibition or regulation of industries for the violation of standards or non-compliance of any orders as well as stopping of electricity or water supply to the offending establishment, in order to reduce the discharge of pollutants.13

  1. Preamble,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  2. Section 18,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  3. Section 33A,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  4. Water Quality Monitoring, cpcb.nic.in, accessed at: https://cpcb.nic.in/Introduction/.[]
  5. Section 20,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  6. Section 21,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  7. Section 23,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  8. Section 25,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  9. Section 27,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  10.  Section 30,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  11. Section 32,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  12. Section 33,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]
  13.  Section 33A,The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.[]

What is the role of courts in regulating water pollution?

The Supreme Court and High Courts along with the National Green Tribunal have made an immense contribution in the regulation of water pollution. The National Green Tribunal has legal authority over all civil cases raising a substantial question relating to the environment, including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment. While the High Courts do not have absolute powers over the orders of the Tribunal, the Supreme Court is the ultimate authority over the orders of the Tribunal. The Supreme Court, High Courts and the National Green Tribunal have ruled on a number of cases relating to water pollution and enforced the proper implementation of the law. Decisions by the Courts have led to the cementing of ‘polluter’s pay principle’ and ‘the precautionary principle’ for the purposes of imposing liability onto the polluter or the potential polluter. The Courts have the power to enforce punishments for noncompliance of the orders of the Pollution Control Boards or any other violation of the law.

Glossary terms

  • Effluents: Waste in liquid form; usually outflows from industries, sewage plants or wastewater treatment plants into a natural body of water.
  • Polluter pays principle: An accepted legal principle where the person responsible for the pollution is the one who pays for the damage to the environment.
  • Precautionary principle: the legal principle based on the idea of taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty or likelihood of an event in order to fix liability on the person responsible for that event.