Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) : An Overview


Water is an indispensable and essential natural resource. It is an endowment of the nature. As such, access to water is a natural right, being a part of the “Right to life”. In Susetha v. State of Tamil Nadu[1],  the Supreme Court stated: “The water bodies are required to be retained. Such requirement is envisaged not only in view of the fact that the right to water as also quality life is envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, but also in view of the fact that the same has been recognized in Articles 47 and 48A of the Constitution of India.  Article 51A of the Constitution of India furthermore makes a fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lakes, rivers and wildlife.”

Everyone must have equal access to clean and pure drinking water and pollution-free water bodies — rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, seas, tidal waters etc. Contamination of these bodies not only threatens aquatic life but also poses serious health hazards to human beings who tend to consume it. This Act on water, as the name suggests, aims at preventing contamination and degradation of water resources by laying down rules on their proper management for households as well as industries in an increasingly globalized and industrialized world.  Moreover, it also aims to preserve and restore the wholesomeness of water bodies by means of imposition of penalties and punishment on the violators.

Water pollution can be described as a distortion of water due to the presence of harmful matter in an amount that makes it unfit for its designated use. Such use may be domestic, agricultural, Industrial, Recreational, etc. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 legally defines water pollution as – “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 any other liquid, gaseous or solid substance into water 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 aquatic organism.”

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act came into force in 1974 and was amended in 1978, 1988 and 2010. These laws have been passed by all the houses of the legislatures of the states of Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura and West Bengal.

Establishment of the Boards

Section 3 and 4 of this Act provide for the constitution and creation of two boards- The Central (Central Pollution Control Board) and the State Boards (State Pollution Control Boards) in the aforementioned states to control and carry out their functions.

Composition and Constitution of Members

The Central Board consists of (Section 3) :

  • A full-time chairman who is expected to have knowledge and experience in environmental protection.
  • 5 Members, who are officials or representatives of the Central Government, including not more than two nominated from the State Boards.
  • Not more than 3 non-officials nominated by the government, who will represent their interests (Agriculture, fishery, industry or trade).
  • 2 persons to represent companies owned, controlled or managed by the Central government.
  • A full-time member-secretary, having knowledge and experience of scientific, engineering or management aspects of pollution control, to be appointed by the Central Government.

The State Board consists of (Section 4):

  • A full-time chairman who is expected to have knowledge and experience in environmental protection.
  • 5 Members, who are officials or representatives of the State Government.
  • 5 members of local authorities, decentralized in the State.
  • Not more than 3 non-officials nominated by the State government, who will represent their interests (Agriculture, fishery, industry or trade).
  • A full-time member-secretary, having knowledge and experience of scientific, engineering or management aspects of pollution control, to be appointed by the State Government.


The term of all the members (except the member-secretary) is 3 years, which is subjected to terms and conditions (mentioned in Section 5)  like the end of tenure of the government or based upon the wishes of the respective government.

Grounds for disqualification are as follows (Section 6):

A member can be disqualified if He/ She:-

  • Has been adjudged insolvent
  • Is of Unsound mind
  • Has been convicted of an offense
  • Has abused his position against the public interest
  • Holds a share or an interest in the company related to treatment of Sewage or Trade effluents.
  • Is involved as a manager, employee etc. in the firm having contract (to install plants to treat sewage) with the Board or any other government authorized body.

Functions of the Boards (Section 16 and Section 17):-

  1. To promote cleanliness of streams and wells
  2. To advise Central Government/ State Governments on matters relating to control and prevention of Water Pollution.
  3. To collaborate and resolve issues between State boards.
  4. To provide technical assistance and undertake researches and investigations to prevent water pollution.
  5. To train volunteers to be engaged in pollution control programs.
  6. To organize programs through mass media (to create awareness).
  7. To collect and publish statistical data and analysis and prepare manuals and guides to disseminate information, for instance, about sewage management.
  8. To lay down, modify or dissolve the standards for a stream, with regard to its nature, use and quality.
  9. To execute a nationwide programme to prevent or abate water pollution.
  10. To evolve innovative and economical methods to treat effluents, with regard to the peculiar conditions of soil, climate and prevailing flow characteristics.
  11. To evolve means to utilize sewage in agriculture.
  12. To lay down the minimum permissible amount of discharge in streams, considering its tolerance and weather dilution levels.
  13. To set up and run laboratories to test water samples from streams to determine its quality.

(Note: The Central Board is bound by the directions of the Central Government and the State Board is bound by the directions of the State and Central Governments.)

Prevention and Control of Water Pollution (Chapter V)

According to Section 19, the provisions of the Act may apply to some designated areas within the state (called “water pollution, prevention and control area”).

Section 20 confers power upon officers to survey, and record the characteristics of the streams and wells. The board also collects information about persons involved in over-extraction of and toxic discharges into streams. It can also ask a person in charge of an industry, operation, or disposal system to furnish details of constructions, installations, operations or extensions to check and monitor pollution.

Section 21 empowers an officer to collect water samples for analysis (to be tested in laboratories).

Section 24 imposes a prohibition on disposal of poisonous and noxious matter into streams as well as of anything likely to obstruct the free flow of water, with the exception of authorized constructions (bridge, dams, drain etc.), acts done for land reclamation, and exempts putting natural deposits such as pebbles or sand.

Section 25 imposes restrictions on new industries by subjecting them to the Board’s consent and conditions. It inquires on the new discharges likely to result and grants its notice of approval accordingly. The Board can also decide to not grant permission or chose to review and revise its conditions.

Funds (Chapter VI)

These are allocated from the financial yearly budgets of the Central government as well as other receipts viz. gifts, grants, donations, benefactions, fees etc.

Penalties and Punishments

1. Imprisonment for a term extending to 3 months or fine (not more than Rs. 10,000/- or both, with an additional fine of Rs. 5000/- for continuance of failure to comply with any direction given under sub-sector (2) or (3) of Section 20.[2]

2. Imprisonment for a term not less than 1 year and 6 months and not more than 6 years with fine (additional fine of Rs. 5000/- per day) for failure to comply with the order issued under clause (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 32 or under sub-section (2) of Section 33 or under Section 33-A.[3]

3. Imprisonment for a term not less than 2 years and not more than 7 years with a fine for continuance of failure to comply with sub-section (2) for a period of one year.[4]

4. Section 42 lists down penalties for other acts, with an imprisonment for a term up to 3 months or with a fine up to Rs. 10,000/- or both (as follows):

  • Destruction, removal etc. of a post or pillar or other matter put up by the Board.
  • Obstruction of an authorized person carrying out his functions under the act.
  • Damage to property of the Board.
  • Failure to report information to the officer under the act
  • Failure to report accidents to the authorities.
  • Giving false material information knowingly to the authorities (for the purpose of obtaining consent).

5. Liability of Companies- Every person in charge at the time of the commission of the offence or every employee/ employer who consented to it or acted negligently will be liable to be proceeded against.[5]

6. The Head of Department of the Government would be liable for offences and action can be initiated against him.[6]

Personal Observations and Comments

Water Pollution can be only addressed effectively by creating awareness among the general masses by practical demonstrations and by disseminating information, for instance, to use eco-friendly materials. At the domestic levels, the ill effects of discharge of detergents, garbage etc. can be communicated and steps could be taken to check upon defaulters. The youth should be also encouraged to devise methods and develop scientific models for cleansing our holy rivers. Moreover, the drivers of the economy or the big industries should be re-located at a relevant place so as to curb its toxic discharge and ensure its detoxification before it is released.


Water is a major driver of the economy as it engages with the most prevalent activity in India, i.e., agriculture (Primary Sector) as well as navigation (trade). With the onset of the green revolution and industrialization, water pollution has been alarmingly increasing due to the disposal of industrial effluents, pesticides and other toxic, organic and inorganic discharges. Unauthorized slums, farm fertilizers and dense settlements have added to the degradation in water quality (measured using the parameters such as temperature, Coliform, TDS, and Hardness), having a cumulative impact over the years. In the contemporary times, it has been aggravated further during the surge of covid-19. The quality of 19 major rivers, including Ganga has deteriorated during the pandemic. With the grim reality of scarce availability of water (per capita availability being 1486 cubic meters[7]) added to its poor quality (ranked 120 out of 122 countries[8]), it becomes necessary to reform the laws and enforce strict implementation by both the authorities as well as compliance by the public.

[1] AIR 2006 SC 2893

[2] See Sub-section (1) of Section 41

[3] See Sub-section (2) of Section 41

[4] See Sub-section (3) of Section 41

[5] See Section 47

[6] See Section 48

[7] Source: Ministry of Jal Shakti. (2021 March 25) Per Capita Availability of Water [Press Release] https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1707522 .

[8] Source: India Ranks 120th of 122 Countries in a Global Water Quality Index, available at: https://www.firstpost.com/tag/india-ranks-120th-of-122-countries-in-a-global-water-quality-index  (last visited on May 2, 2021).

This article has been written by Tazeen Ahmed, 1st year, B.A. LL.B. (H) at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Also Read –Environment Protection Act, 1986 – An Overview and Analysis

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