The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 And Landmark Judgements

Delhi High Court has held that right to access to drinking water is fundamental to life and there is a duty of the State under Article 21 of the Constitution to provide clean drinking water to its citizens.

The Delhi High Court presided over by J. Jayant Nath laid down this ratio in the case of Delhi Sainik Cooperative Housing Building Society Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors.

Objective of The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974:

This Act came into force on 23 March 1974 and was amended in the years 1978 and 1988. There are a total of 8chapters and 64 Section in the Act.

Water Act 1974 : Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 is a comprehensive legislation that regulates agencies responsible for checking on water pollution and ambit of pollution control boards both at the centre and states. The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 was adopted by the Indian parliament with the aim of prevention and control of Water Pollution in India.

Sections Under the Act:

1. Section 2:

(a) Occupier- It means the person who has control over the affairs of the factory or the premises, and it includes the person in possession of the substance.

(b) Outlet– It includes any conduit pipe or channel, open or closed, carrying sewage or trade effluent or any other holding arrangement which causes, or is likely to cause, pollution.

(c) Pollution– It means such contamination of water or such alteration of the physical, chemical or biological properties of water or such discharge of any sewage or trade effluent or of any other liquid, gaseous or solid substance into water (whether directly or indirectly) as may, or is likely to, create a nuisance or render such water harmful or injurious to public health or safety, or to domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural or other legitimate uses, or to the life and health of animals or plants or of acquatic organisms.

(d) Sewage effluent– It means effluent from any sewerage system or sewage disposal works and includes sullage from open drains.

(e) Stream– It includes river, water course (whether flowing or for the time being dry), inland water (whether natural or artificial), sub-terranean waters, sea or tidal waters to such extent or, as the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf..

(f) Trade effluent– It includes any liquid, gaseous or solid substance which is discharged from any premises used for carrying on any [industry, operation or process, or treatment and disposal system], other than domestic sewage.

2. Section 3 and 4:

Constitution of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards, respectively, are provided the authority to exercise the powers conferred to them under this Act.

Constitution and Composition of Central Board:

(a) a full-time chairman, being a person having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of 2[matters relating to environmental protection] or a person having knowledge and experience in administering institutions dealing with the matters aforesaid, to be nominated by the Central Government.

(b) 3[such number of officials, not exceeding five,] to be nominated by the Central Government to represent that Government.

(c) such number of persons, not exceeding five to be nominated by the Central Government, from amongst the members of the State Boards, of whom not exceeding two shall be from those referred to in clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 4.

(d) 4[such number of non-officials, not exceeding three,] to be nominated by the Central Government, to represent the interests of agriculture, fishery or industry or trade or any other interest which, in the opinion of the Central Government, ought to be represented.

(e) two persons to represent the companies or corporations owned, controlled or managed by the Central Government, to be nominated by that Government; 5[(f) a full-time member-secretary, possessing qualifications, knowledge and experience of scientific, engineering or management aspects of pollution control, to be appointed by the Central Government.

3. Section 13:

Under this Section, the Act prescribes the constitution of a Joint Board for pollution control if there is an agreement between
(a) two or more State Governments of contiguous states or,
(b) Central Government (representing one or more Union Territories) and State Governments contiguous to one or more Union Territories.

4. Section 16:

Functions of CPCB:

(a) Advise the Central Government on any matter concerning the prevention and control of water pollution.
(b) Co-ordinate the activities of the State Boards and provide technical assistance and guidance.
(c) Collect, compile and publish technical and statistical data relating to water pollution.
(d) Establish or recognize a laboratory or laboratories to enable the Board to perform its functions under this section efficiently including the analysis of samples of water from any stream or well or of samples of any sewage or trade effluents.


(a) If any person fails to comply with the orders of the board under subsection 2 and 3 of Section 20 then in that case on conviction he is punishable for imprisonment for 3 months or fine or both.

(b) If the person fails to comply with orders of the board under clause e of subsection 1 of Section 32 or with subsection 2 of Section 33 then, in that case, the person would be punishable with imprisonment for 6 months extending to 6 years or a fine or both.

(c) Apart from the above-mentioned penalties. Section 42 mentions penalties for different kinds of Acts namely:

  • If any person removes, destroys or pull down any notice put up by the board.
  • If someone obstructs the member of the board or any other person who is Acting under the board.
  • If a person fails to produce any information as required by the member of the board for the performance of his duties.
  • Or if he gives any information to the members which he knows to be false.

(d) Then In all the above Acts if the person is convicted he would be punishable by imprisonment for a maximum period of 3 months or fine that may extend up to 10,000 rupees or both.

Landmark Cases:

1. M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India – Ganga Pollution Case

MC Mehta, a noted Supreme Court Lawyer had filed a writ petition to the Supreme Court to prevent leather tanneries from disposing of the domestic and industrial waste in the river Ganga. He requested the court to stop the disposal of effluents into the river till the time a certain treatment plan has been incorporated to curb water pollution.

Judgment: The court highlighted the importance of certain provisions which protect our environment. Article 48 – A also made sure that the State will take right steps to protect and safeguard wildlife of the country. The court stated the importance of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (the Water Act) which helps maintain water quality. In the historic judgment of 1987, the court said that “Just like an industry which cannot pay minimum wages to its workers should not be allowed to exist, a tannery which cannot set up a primary treatment plant should not be allowed to continue its existence.

2. Subhash Kumar Vs. State of Bihar – Bokaro River Pollution Case

The petition was filed by the public litigation in the prevention of water pollution of river Bokaro from the discharge of slurry from the Tata Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. The Petitioner alleged that the Parliament enacted Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1978 for the prevention of water pollution. The State Pollution Control Board failed to take actions against the company and permitted its operation. The State of Bihar did not take any actions against this, instead granted a lease on the payment of royalty. The issue was whether the river Bokaro is polluted by the discharge of the slurry from the company.

Judgment: The apex court held that the right to get pollution free water and air is the fundamental right under Article 21. But gradually, the fact came into the picture that before granting the discharge of effluents to the Bokaro river, the Board had analyzed and monitored that the effluents generated did not pollute the river. Therefore, there was no good reason to accept petitioner’s contentions. However, the bench found that effective steps must be taken by the State Pollution Control Board to check pollution. Hence, the petition was dismissed.


The Act became Old in present scenario. The country needs more comprehensive and stricter Act . The judgement of different courts and Supreme Court also helps to protect water bodies from pollution . We need more Strong authority which work on implementation of these laws because just by making laws you cannot control pollution, proper implementation is also required. We need to create awareness to prevention and control water pollution and also conserve water bodies

Mentioned Cases:

1. Delhi Sainik Cooperative Housing Building Society Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors.

2. M.C.Mehta v. Union of India (Ganga Pollution Case)

3. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar( Bokaro River pollution Case)


1. Indiankanoon .org




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