Introduction Water management laws in India had undergone a revolution. For decades, water laws in India were concerned with land rights and irrigation progressively it had shifted its concern to drinking water conservation and protection as well.[1] The shift in focus should have an impact to conserve drinking water. The union government had enacted the Water (Prevention and… Read More »

Introduction Water management laws in India had undergone a revolution. For decades, water laws in India were concerned with land rights and irrigation progressively it had shifted its concern to drinking water conservation and protection as well.[1] The shift in focus should have an impact to conserve drinking water. The union government had enacted the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, even now we face water scarcity due to mismanagement of water resources. Safe...

Introduction

Water management laws in India had undergone a revolution. For decades, water laws in India were concerned with land rights and irrigation progressively it had shifted its concern to drinking water conservation and protection as well.[1] The shift in focus should have an impact to conserve drinking water. The union government had enacted the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, even now we face water scarcity due to mismanagement of water resources.

Safe drinking water: A constitutional right

The makers of our Constitution might have never envisaged the idea of water management and conservation as a matter of concern. The Government of India Act, 1935 had given the power to provinces for water supply, irrigation, canals etc.[2] Which were added to the state list in the Indian Constitution, this is subjected to entry 56 in the Union list which deals with inter-state rivers and river valley programs.

Our Constitution was silent about the aspect of conservation of water. Matters relating to “ water “ was included in both the union and state lists. The matter relating to interstate water disputes was included in the Union list. In the leading case of MC Mehta v. Union of India, [3]the court had directed the central government to set up an authority to deal with the indiscriminate extraction of groundwater this interpretation was based on a view that the matter is related to environmental protection which has central legislation under entry 13 list 1.i.e the environment protection act 1986.

The constitution does not mention the right to safe drinking water as a fundamental right explicitly. It is implied in article 21 of the Constitution of India this was discussed in the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India where the mine owner denied his worker’s basic facilities including shelter, food, clean water etc.

The court interpreted as the right to live with human dignity is a fundamental right so a person cannot be deprived of the enjoyment of basic essentials, which includes the right to access safe drinking water. Article 39 (b) directs the state to make policy to secure ownership and control of resources of the community and to distribute them for the common good. Water is a kind of resource over which the people have a community ownership state have the liability to ensure the availability of safe drinking water.

The right to clean drinking water is also a part of the right to have a clean environment. In Subhash Kumar v. the State of Bihar, the right to enjoy pollution-free water and the air is recognised as the right to life. The right to access safe drinking water is a basic fundamental right that makes the state liable to ensure the supply of safe and potable drinking water, hence the conservation of water is the function of the state. Article 51 A (g) explicit the conservation of natural resources is a fundamental duty of all citizens of India. The citizens are also responsible to conserve water resources.

The 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution empowers the local and matters governing institutions to exercise power relating to the matters of water management and solid waste management. The municipalities are empowered by Article 243-W. Item no 6 of schedule 7 in public health, sanitation and solid waste management. Article 243-X and Article 243-Y give the local self-governing the power to collect tax for establishing effluent treatment plants. These could be supervised through the secretaries of urban and local development bodies.[4]

Legislative framework of water management laws

We have 6 major national legislations and several other state legislation for the conservation of water resources.

  1. Water (prevention and control of pollution ) Act 1974
  2. Environmental Protection Act 1986
  3. River Boards Act 1956
  4. Public Liability Insurance Act 1991
  5. Environment Assessment Development Of Projects Act 1994
  6. National Environmental Tribunal Act 1995

Legislations in India treat water supply as a general term and” water for domestic purposes” as a specific term that refers to the supply of potable drinking water. Water supply in legislation is meant for non-drinking purposes while drinking water is denoted as “water for domestic purpose”. While examining the available state legislation water supply could be classified as :[5]

  1. Laws on water boards for urban water supply
  2. Laws on water supply in metropolitan cities
  3. Laws on water supply in the state
  4. Laws on regulation of groundwater extraction
  5. Laws on protection of water resource
  6. Laws on the water in the industrial area

State governments had established boards for drinking water supply regulated by respective state legislations. The objectives state legislations and their methodology will differ. For example, in Himachal Pradesh, the Himachal Pradesh distinguishes the beneficiaries and consumers.

The local bodies are known to be the beneficiaries of the schemes provided by the state government, the people who get access to water will be the ultimate consumers. In Kerala, Kerala had established Kerala Water Authority under the Kerala water supply and Sewerage Act 1986. The laws enable the supply of drinking water thereabout the state, it is not responsible for disruption of water supply due to any matter beyond their control during repair of pipelines.

Efficacy of drinking water supply

It is estimated that the water-born diseases had made an economic burden of 600 US Dollars for India per day. The water gets more contaminated in flood-prone areas. More than 50 per cent of the population in India has access to safe drinking water. There has been a rapid decrease in the availability of groundwater over the past few years. [6]

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 had several guidelines to be followed by the industries and the effluent standards which they have to follow before the discharge of effluents.

The industries are not keen on establishing treatment plants that will Detroit the quality of water in nearby areas in 2017 a news report published in the Times of India had published a news report on the quality of groundwater in 11 districts of western and southern Haryana and reported it as the worst and unfit for consumption due to poor quality effluent discharged and the green tribunal took action over it.[7]

The authorities might not do a regular inspection and as a result, the people approach quasi-judicial bodies for action which is done after facing the detrimental effects which another hand would have avoided by the proper inspections. Similar is the case with acute water shortage faced by the people in Delhi. It was reported in the 2017 economic survey 20% of drinking water in Delhi was wasted due to mismanagement which otherwise would have been avoided.[8]

The water supply laws in India are mainly state legislations and it focuses more on the distribution of drinking water through state government. The State boards act as the water suppliers through connections to households and industries. These laws focus more on being penalising subscribers for non-payment of water tax. The state doesn’t attempt to ensure people’s participation in water management.

It is evident from these that we don’t have an efficient water supply mechanism. The government had done constant efforts through developmental policies. The central government had put forward a Technology Mission to assist the state in ensuring a safe drinking water supply. It was called as Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission. This policy was introduced for ensuring a safe drinking water supply in the village and urban areas. This was aimed at making people aware of the importance of the conservation of water resources.[9]

Conclusion

The water management laws in India had undergone an evolution from the colonial era to the new era. The water management laws now had shifted their focus towards providing safe drinking water for the people and efficient treatment of effluents to discharge. Still, we are not successful at the implementation of government schemes and laws at the grassroots for the enduring an efficient supply of safe drinking water for all.

India with such a diverse range of geographical conditions will feel it difficult to have a uniform approach for the conservation of water resource and their proper management. The problems and solutions for each state and union territory will differ.

The proper implementation of all state legislation through local and self-governing bodies will be a better solution. The responsibility to conserve water resources lies with people as well as the government. The structural framework of state legislation also should shift its focus towards rainwater harvesting and groundwater protection measures as well.


[1] Philippe Cullet and Sujith Koonan, Water law in India an introduction to legal instruments.

[2] ibid

[3] (1997) 11 SCC 137

[4] Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti v. Union of India, (2017) 5 SCC 326

[5] Meena Panicker, State responsibility in the drinking water sector an overview of the Indian scenario

[6] Clean drinking water, Ensuring survival and improved outcomes across all outcomes for every child, UNICEF, Available Here (last view on 6th August 2021)

[7] 2018 SCC Online NGT 167

[8] Water shortage in Delhi due to mismanagement, The Hindu, Available Here ( last updated on 11th July 2021)

[9] Meena panicker state responsibility in the drinking water sector an overview of the Indian scenario.


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2021-08-12T11:24:06+05:30
Krishnapriya M S

Krishnapriya M S

Government Law College, Thrissur.

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