New Delhi, Jan 13 | The Supreme Court on Wednesday said pollution-free water forms a basic right under the constitutional framework as it took suo moto cognisance of the issue of contamination of rivers by sewage effluents.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, said: “We deem it appropriate at this stage to start with the issue of contamination of river Yamuna.”
The observation from the top court came on a plea by the Delhi Jal Board citing increased ammonia levels in Yamuna due to discharge of pollutants. The bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, said the plea highlights an issue of great significance and consequence not only for general public but all living beings dependent upon open surface water.
The court said the right to clean environment and further, pollution free water has been protected under the broad rubric of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21.
“Open surface water resources including rivers are lifeline of human civilisation. In olden days, almost all the human settlements were at the bank of some river. Every civilisation including ours, has shown great amount of gratitude to these life creating resources,” it noted.
It observed that one of the major causes of water pollution is discharge of non-treated/partially treated municipal waste including sewage effluent of cities into rivers. “Such discharge of human sewage and other pollutants results into deterioration in chemical, physical and biological properties of water. All these processes lead to degradation of natural environment,” it said.
The top court added that deterioration of quality of fresh water has a direct corelation with the quality of public health and polluted water is a major cause of variety of diseases and discomforts. It said that the mandate of law is clear as far as setting up of sewage treatment plants and stoppage of sewage effluents in surface water, but it is often found that either the sewage is not treated through a plant before being discharged or the treatment plants are not functional.
The top court issued notice to Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. “Notice shall also be issued to Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India and the Central Pollution Control Board in addition,” said the top court order and appointed senior advocate Meenakshi Arora as amicus curiae in the matter.
The top court directed the CPCB to submit a report identifying municipalities along the river Yamuna, which have not installed total treatment plants for sewage as per the requirement or have gaps in ensuring that the sewage is not discharged untreated into the river.
The top court has listed the matter for further hearing on January 19.
The DJB had plead the top court, citing its inability to supply water to all areas of Delhi due to the high ammonia level in the river, which enters into it from the water coming from the Haryana side.
Arora, representing the DJB, contended before the top court that the sewage treatment plant in Haryana was not working properly. She said this has led to a high ammonia level in the water, making it unfit for drinking. She also emphasised that the pollutants released into the water are the major issue.