River Pollution:  Issues and Laws Regulating In India – Bhanu

River Pollution:  Issues and Laws Regulating In India


The Author Is Bhanu Pratap Samantaray, 2nd Year Student At National Law University, Odisha.




Rivers are far more than just normal flowing water bodies, especially in India, it is considered as religious faith and a lifeline for many people as well. More than 500 million people live along the Ganges River (Ganga), who are totally dependent on it in many ways, be it fisheries, irrigation or the simple daily use of water, and ritually bathe in it over Lakhs of people as it is considered by Hindus to be Holy. But today, the Ganges and Yamuna, India’s two biggest and most holy rivers, are among the most polluted rivers in the world. The contamination can impair the health of the people living alongside it.


Water pollution is a major environmental problem in India, owing to several factors that include not only rapid population growth but also greater reliance on technology and lack of knowledge among people about water conservation and the effects of water pollution on their future.


It should also be noted that a large number of village ponds are being reduced and transformed into garbage dumps on a large scale, which makes both the humans and animals dependent on those ponds more prone to serious health hazards.




  • Sewage and wastewater:

On a very large scale, sewage, drainage, and waste from homes, agricultural farms, and factories are pumped into rivers. Such waste contains many chemicals and poisonous substances that rely on it and live in it, which are very harmful to plants and animals.


  • Dumping


Dumping solid waste products such as plastic, glass, aluminium, etc. is very toxic and directly affects water bodies. It takes millions of years for these waste materials to decompose, and therefore, it remains in their real form, sometimes it is eaten by marine animals, and these wastes cause many internal issues, and often it is hazardous to their life.


  • Industrial Waste

Industries are often built on the riverbank because the waste materials eliminated from industries are easy for them to dump into it. Industrial waste includes many hazardous compounds that are very poisonous to humans and the environment as well, such as lead, mercury, and petrochemicals, as the waste disposed of in water contaminates the water.




Water pollution is regarded as a serious problem, and the government has taken a few measures to minimize and regulate it, finding it a prime problem:


  • Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974


The primary purpose of this Act is to ensure that water contamination is controlled and water sources are taken care of and protected. It also intends to encourage the conservation of marine bodies. The Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Board were established by the Central Government and the State Government, respectively, for the better implementation of the Act. Under the Act, the Board is empowered to promote and perform research and investigations with a view to substantially promoting, preventing, and advising the Central Government on issues relating to environmental issues and the prevention and control of water pollution.


  • The Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Cess Act, 2003


One of the prime sources of water contamination is waste coming from industries. The waste is disposed of from the industries into the rivers that pollute the river on a wide scale. Under Section 2 of this Act, industries include any operation or procedure, or treatment of sewage or disposal or any industrial effluent. Section 3 of this Act provides an exception for industries that consume water below the defined limit from levying cess on those industries. When processing of these materials is performed in any industry, water is contaminated by poisonous or non-biodegradable chemicals, and such industries are forced to pay cessation under this rule.


  • The Indian Penal Code


Under the Indian criminal law, the provisions were laid down to punish the individual committing an offense in contravention to the Code. Section 277 of the Code specifies that the penalty to be imposed on a person who willingly commits an offense of fouling a public reservoir or a public spring shall be punishable by three months ‘ imprisonment or by a fine of 500 Rupees or both.


The clarification of this situation can be supported by an example. A, a Chandigarh resident, goes near a reservoir and voluntarily places a hazardous material with the intention of causing environmental damage and polluting the water in sight. Before, the reservoir was suitable for public use, but after the Act of A, the reservoir became unfit for public utilization. Therefore, under Section 277 of the I.P.C., A was held responsible for the offence and he was disciplined with imprisonment of up to three months and a fine of Rupees 500.


The River Boards Act, 1956


The purpose of this Act was to establish rivers and to regulate interstate water disputes. The Act provides the state government the power to set up boards by issuing a special notice. The aim of this Act is to settle and control inter-state disputes over water. Article 262 of the Constitution of India confers on the Union the power to decide and adjudicate the inter-state water conflicts which are prevailing in the country. In order to control the interstate conflict that prevails in a specific country, awards and tribunals were also formulated through this Act.


Right to Clean Water


A progressive move to regulate water pollution has been taken by the Indian Judiciary. Under the Indian Constitution, Article 21 of the Constitution of India has been liberally interpreted by the Judiciary, which involves the right to clean water and the environment within the framework of Article 21, Article 48, and Article 51(g) of the Constitution of India. Throughout the history of Fundamental Rights, various judicial rulings have paved the way for the general definition of the right to life.


The Judiciary argued that the right to clean water falls within the framework of the right to life and that, thus, the right to clean water should be included in the scope of Article 21, Article 48, and Article 51(g). In the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan v. The Union of India[1], the Supreme Court held that, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to clean water is a fundamental right. The court noted that the right to clean water is part of the fundamental need for the human right to life.

The government is required to prevent the water from getting polluted. In the landmark case of MC Mehta vs. The Union of India[2], the court held that the need for the hour is to prevent the water of the river Ganga from being polluted. The Supreme Court declared in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar[3] that the right to life includes the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air for complete enjoyment of life.


The Supreme Court went further in the Sardar Sarovar case and extracted the right to water explicitly from Article 21. It claimed that, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India,’ water is the fundamental need for human beings to live and is part of the right to life and human rights.’




In July 2014, Namami Gange was an important and one of the most highlighted measures taken by the Government of India for the creation of the Ganga River with a huge budget of Rs 20000 Crores, intending to make Ganga pollution-free and for the protection and rejuvenation of the Ganga National River. The Namami Gange programme aimed to fund improvements in infrastructure to reduce pollution loads at priority river sites.

The investments are intended to illustrate high levels of technological planning and execution, continuity of operations, and public engagement, among other characteristics. It is expected that most of the investments in the Namami Gange programme will be in the wastewater sector, especially in wastewater treatment plants and sewerage networks.

Investments in industrial pollution control and prevention, solid waste management, and riverfront management will also be funded. It is possible that several investments incorporate elements of more than one of these industries. There was no doubt that work being done, and some of the most significant steps were the development of sewage treatment capacities, the development of the riverfront, the cleaning of the river surface, the establishment of bio-diversity centres, and the dissemination of knowledge among people through posters, banners, and ads.




The most important thing you need for your livelihood is the river or water, and no life is possible without water, and the main source of freshwater that can be used by plants and animals is underground waters and rivers. We can see that underground water is very small or about to end in several areas.


For their livelihood and for the basic needs of their lives, the population living there does not have enough water. Therefore, they are going to the river, which is their only alternative, and if the river water also gets polluted and toxic, human beings, as well as plants and animals, would have no choice left. Even because of that acidic and poisonous water, many plants and animals die each day.


The need for an hour is to look more realistically, more comprehensively, and above all, with an eye on the future, at the threat to river life. A future-building scenario will help decision-makers arrive at a practical approach to tackle the problem. A review mechanism combined with an ability to make course corrections, if necessary, would assist the country in saving itself from the looming major disaster. For us and for our future generation, we need to recognize the value of water and that it is important to protect and clean it. This will not help us to make it pollution free just by considering rivers as Sacred, but we must also treat it as a Sacred or religious faith by not doing all those things that make it dirty or poisonous.


[1]  Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, [2000] 10 S.C.C. 664

[2]M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, [1987] 4 SCC 463

[3] Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar 1991 AIR 420, 1991 S.C.R. (1) 5


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