A Succinct Study of Water Laws in India


Water is a colourless liquid bearing the scientific formula H2O. It is one of those rare substances found in all three states of matter, i.e. solid (in the form of ice), liquid (in the form of water) and gas (in the form of water vapours). About 70 % of the earth’s surface is covered with water. It is indeed the most precious gift of nature to earth, but, we as a human are not able to utilize it properly.   

Importance of Water  

As already said, water is a colourless magical liquid with immense importance. It forms the basis of life. Our 60% weight of the body consists of water. [1] It is also suggested that for a healthy body, we should drink about two to three litres of water daily. It is also useful in performing day to day chores, i.e. cooking food, washing clothes, bathing, etc. Our whole agriculture depends on the water, especially on rainwater. Water is also necessary to maintain a balance in the ecosystem. These are some of the uses of water that how we depend on it and we cannot survive without water.

Need for Water Conservation and Water laws

It is indeed said that what we easily get we do not value it or care for it. We instead of efficiently using water started to over-utilize it. We did not stop here; we even polluted the water to such an extent that it cannot be used for drinking or even for irrigation purpose. Farmers dug tubewells without thinking about the necessity and used the water for irrigation. As a result of this water level has reached down to a dangerous level. Even now, a considerable portion of the population does not have access to clean drinking water, and the situation is going to worse if we do not awake now. The experts say that the third world war will be for water.

All these events made people realize the importance of water. The Government thought of making policies and laws to preserve water and promote efficient use of water.

Water laws in India

India, before achieving independence from Britishers, made a handful of regulations to control the fouling of waters. Though most of them dealt with preventing and controlling water pollution, those laws proved to be inefficient to prevent water pollution. The problem saw a significant rise after the use of pesticides, fertilizers, etc. to increase agricultural needs. A committee regarding the same was formed in October 1962. The working of the committee was slow, and legislation was framed in the year 1974 known as ‘Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.’

Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

This Act was made with the object to prevent and control water pollution and maintain the wholesomeness of water.  The Act provides establishing Central and State Pollution Control Boards. Section 16 and 17 of the Act talks about the functions of Central and State Boards respectively, which mainly includes advising government, co-coordinating, organizing programs, laying down standards, planning, etc. The Boards have also been equipped with lots of powers. [2]

Constitutional Perspective

  1. Article 19(6) – The State is empowered to make any law in the interest of people. It may even put restrictions on exercising profession which may be affecting public life, such as water being polluted by industry.[3]
  2. Article 21 – Right to the wholesome environment is part of Article 21. Getting clean drinking water is a part of it, and the Government must ensure this supply. [4]
  3. Article 48-A – It gives the State the duty to protect and improve the environment by providing a pollution-free environment and clean water. [5]
  4. Article 51-A (g) – It imposes a duty on the people of India to act for environment protection, including Rivers, water lakes, etc. UDHR also talks about it.
  5. Article 253 –  Parliament can make laws to implement an international treaty. These treaties are mainly related to the environment, including providing clean drinking water to everyone. [6]


  1. Polluter Pays Principle – It merely means that the one who produces the pollution should bear the cost of managing it. Principle 16 of the Rio declaration talks about it. Some of the case laws where this principle was used are Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action  v. UOI. In this case, the polluter pays principle was applied.[7] 

    Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum  v. UOI– This case is popularly known as T.N. Tannery’s case. The Supreme Court held that the Polluter Pay Principle is a part of the environmental law of the country. [8], etc.
  2. Public Trust Doctrine – It says that some natural resources which are useful for mankind must be preserved. The State will have to act as a trustee of those natural resources.[9] Since water is a natural resource of utmost importance, so the State will act as a trustee to preserve it and prevent it from pollution. Some of the important case laws are M.C.Mehta  v. Kamal Nath(1997) [10],  M.I.Builders  v.  Radhey Shyam Sahu(1999) [11].
  3. Precautionary Principle – It was derived from Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration. It is a proactive approach to prevent damage. We Indians believe that prevention is better than cure. This principle supports this ideology of Indians either directly or indirectly.
  4. Concept of Sustainable Development – It is a form of responsible development. It says that no development should take place at the cost of degradation of the environment. Since 1972 till present sustainable development could be roughly divided into four phases.[12] It says that quality of life should not be decreased due to development. Indirectly, it directs us to maintain the quality of water for daily life.

Tortuous Liability

  1. Nuisance

    Public Nuisance – It is both torts as well as crime. It is an unreasonable restriction caused to the general public either due to discharge of effluents or polluted water.

    Private Nuisance – It is generally related to an individual who cannot exercise the right of enjoyment over property either due to discharge of effluents, smell due to polluted water, etc.
  2. Negligence – It results from a breach of duty. This provision is applied in those cases where the industries while using water neglects to make sewage water treatment plant or wrongfully turning the direction of river water for themselves. However, over time, this principle became insufficient. There was a need to develop new norms.
  3. Strict liability – This concept says that a person will be liable if he causes damage to the environment by his or her action or omission. This provision is derived from English law.
  4. Absolute liability – A trend was seen that the doctrine of strict liability governed most of the cases related to environmental torts, but this trend changed when the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of M.C. Mehta v. UOI, deviated from the above-said principle and implemented the absolute liability system. This principle is operated without any exception. So, if any enterprise or industry pollutes water and makes it hazardous, they will be absolutely liable.  [13]

Criminal Liabilities

  1. Under Indian Penal Code – Chapter XIV of IPC deal with it. These provisions are for public health. These provisions may help in preventing environment pollution specially water pollution. Relevant sections may be Section 268 to 294-A.

    Section 268 talks about public nuisance. So, all the matters which relate to the environment and its pollution in any form by any act or omission by any person, thereby causing a threat to public life will be considered as a public nuisance. 
  2. Under Criminal Procedure Code – Section 133 to 144 deals with the situation of a public nuisance that when can a case be brought in such a situation. It must be remembered that most of the cases which are filed under IPC regarding public nuisance are dealt with section 133 of the Cr.P.C. [14]

Other methods to check water pollution

There are some other methods which are being used to check water pollution in India. They are as following:

  1. Environment Audit – It is an instrument which may be used by the Government or any institution to measure the degree of damage caused to the environment due to some particular activity/ activities. It is used for checking the water pollution in cases where the industry may have caused so much water pollution, or the use of pesticides has polluted groundwater. [15]
  2. Environment Impact Assessment – It can be understood us future planning or assessment. It is generally done when a project is to be launched that what will be the impact of the project on the environment. It is used in those cases where an industry is to be set up near the river water or water source. It should not be confused with environment audit because environment audit is done when the industry has already started working, and significant time has elapsed. In contrast, EIA is done before setting up the industry to check the level of damage that could be caused by it. 
  3. Filing of Public Interest Litigation – It may be filed by a capable person who is genuinely interested in the problem. In this damages may be awarded to restore the environment or to shift the industry to other suitable places with all safety measures to prevent water pollution. 


  1. Central Pollution Control Boards formed under ‘Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974’ – This board was set up under the Water Act, 1974. This board has been provided with some duties and powers which are to be performed in its jurisdiction.
  2. State Pollution Control Boards formed under ‘Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974’ – This board was also set up by the above said Act. Most of its powers and duties are same as Central Board with an only difference about jurisdiction. [16]
  3. National Green Tribunal – It was formed in 2010 as a result of the National Green Tribunal Act. It was a consequence of a Special Leave Petition titled Union of India  v. Vimal Bhai [17]. It has jurisdiction to decide all cases involving substantial question related to environment protection, including Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. It is a statutory authority. During its procedure, it is bound to apply the principle of natural justice. However, its working has some challenges too, i.e. there is no definite formula to decide compensation, and it has very limited branches.


It is well said that each drop helps to fill the vessels, so it is true with our efforts to save water. Even a small step taken may prove to be a turning event to save water. Though our small steps would not have a large impact on society, it may give us the satisfaction of performing a good job.

Efforts are being made by the Government as well as individuals to save water. Some of the following suggestions may be taken into consideration:

  1. The first and foremost thing or suggestion is to develop a habit of saving water. It is said that when we brush or take a bath, we waste a lot of clean water which may be used for other purposes. Use of bucket is preferred over shower or pipes.
  2. Reusing the water is another way to conserve the water and minimize its use. Water could be reused to water the plants.
  3. Use of sewage water treatment plants by industries may be made mandatory because the industries contribute most of the pollution in water.
  4. We need to adopt good habits or learn the better use of water. We should focus on collecting rainwater as much as we can. It is sufficient for a year. We could learn this practice from Israel, which has shown us that if rainwater is appropriately conserved, there will be no shortage of water.
  5. We need to change our irrigation methods. We should focus on drip irrigation methods to water the plants in fields because it saves a huge amount of water.   


It can be said that we have enough laws on water (either related to conservation or preventing pollution). We instead of making news laws must focus on implementing the already existing laws. Government is trying best to enforce those laws, but lack of will is making the situation somewhat difficult. We at an individual level are also careless when it comes to saving water. We always see water as our fundamental right, but we hardly think that preserving it is our fundamental duty.  We need to ask ourselves and the government that why are we not able to use science and technology to provide clean water to all, why cannot we minimize the use of water, why we are lagging behind in water conservation. So, if we do not start now, it will be too late to regret.  

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Do you think that Water laws in India are sufficed? Are there any suggestions regarding water conservation?

2)  Critically analyze the Constitutional perspective on water laws in India.

3) Analyse the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

4) What laws are related directly or indirectly with ‘water pollution and preservation’ in India?


[1] https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body#:~:text=Water%20is%20of%20major%20importance,lungs%20are%20about%2083%25%20water.

[2] Bare Act, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

[3] Bare Act, Constitution of India, 1950

[4] Bare Act, Constitution of India, 1950

[5] Bare Act, Constitution of India, 1950

[6] Bare Act, Constitution of India, 1950

[7] 1996 AIR 1446, 1996 SCC (3) 212

[8] AIR 1996 SC 2715


[10] (1997)1 SCC 388

[11] Civil Appeals Nos. 9323-25 of 1994 | 29-07-1999

[12] S.C. Shastri, Environmental Law, Eastern Book Company

[13] Prof. R.K. Singh, Environmental Law, Jaipur publishing House

[14] S.C. Shastri, Environmental Law, Eastern Book Company

[15] P.Leelakrishnan, Environmental Law in India, Eastern Book Company

[16] P.Leelakrishnan, Environmental Law in India, Eastern Book Company

[17] CM No. 15895/2005 in W.P. (C) 17682/2005

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