No Action Against Individuals Illegally Extracting Ground Waters: Madras HC Initiates Suo Motu Contempt

No Action Against Individuals Illegally Extracting Ground Waters: Madras HC  Initiates Suo Motu Contempt

Madras High Court initiated suo motu contempt against the state authorities for the non-implementation of its judgment which had directed for action against individuals who were illegally extracting ground waters and were selling it at exorbitant prices to public. Court had passed judgment regarding same in a batch of writ petitions on it in October 2018.

"In spite of the specific directions issued by this Court and in spite of the large scale complaint filed by the public at large and the broadcasting of theft of water and selling of the potable water for the exorbitant price are not even looked into nor suitable actions are taken by the Competent Authorities of the State. Thus, this Court is inclined to initiate suo motu contempt against the respondents [State Authorities] for the non-implementation of the judgment of this Court dated 3.10.2018 as well as allowing few individuals to commit such illegalities in violation of the judgment as well as the constitutional principles."

Respondents' Directed To Answer Questions

Court has asked respondents' to answer following questions:

  • What are all the actions initiated by the State to regulate the extraction of groundwater beneath the earth?
  • What are all the actions initiated against the illegal extraction of groundwater beneath the earth, including the extraction of groundwater from the private properties?
  • What are all the actions taken against the complaints sent by the public at large regarding the theft of water from the lakes, water resources, agricultural lands and other public properties as well as from the private properties?
  • What are all the actions taken by the State in respect of illegal utilization of agricultural power supply for the purpose of extraction of groundwater and to sell the water for exorbitant prices to the public at large?
  • What are all the actions taken by the State in respect of extraction of groundwater through the deep bore wells in an illegal manner without getting permission from the Competent Authorities?

Background

A report of News Channel News 18 Tamil Nadu was brought into the notice of the court which had broadcasted a detailed report gathered from various places, more specifically around Chennai City that large scale ground waters are being stolen by few individuals and the illegally extracted ground waters are transported through Water Tanker Lorries and sold to the public in general for huge amount of more than Rs.4,000/- to Rs.5,000/- for 6,000 litres of water.

The TV Channel Reporters had lamented that the people in Chennai City are struggling to get water and under these circumstances, the illegal extraction of water and selling the same for exorbitant prices are affecting the livelihood of the common man, more specifically, the middle-class people as well as the below middle class people.

Court taking notice of the report had observed:

"Undoubtedly, the scarcity of water in the City at present is the fact. However, regulation of extraction of ground water is of paramount importance in order to provide equal distribution of water to all the citizens in a legalised manner. If the illegal extraction of water is permitted by the State, then the individuals, who all are commercializing the water sale by illegally extracting the groundwater will escape from the clutches of law."

Non-compliance with Judgment

Court said that the state is duty bound to control the illegal activities and judgment delivered by the court has not been implemented in the letter and spirit. Court said further that when the said judgment was posted under the caption "For Reporting Compliance", the Government Pleader informed the Court that the State has taken action and a Committee was constituted to regulate the extraction of groundwater across the State. However, several months have lapsed and illegal extractions are reported widely in newspapers more specifically in the "News 18 Tamil Nadu Channel".

Water is Life

Court said that the seriousness involved in this issue is of paramount importance. Water is life and there is no life without water. If the water is sold for an exorbitant price, it may not be possible for the common man to lead a peaceful decent life. Thus, it is duty mandatory on the part of the State to ensure supply of water by regulating the same by avoiding illegal extraction for the purpose of selling the water for exorbitant price.

Directions to the Respondents'

Bench of Justice S.M.Subramaniam issued a number of directions to the respondents' with few as follows:

  • The respondents are directed not to grant licence, No Objection Certificate (NOC) or permission for the commercial establishments / person to extract ground water for commercial usage in the absence of fixation of water Flow Meter on the Board outlet, which is to be inspected.
  • The respondents are directed to inspect the functional quality and other established standards of the Flow Meters fixed by the persons, who all are applying for permissions / No Objection Certificate (NOC) and at the time of granting permission / No objection Certificate (NOC), the Flow Meter should be sealed properly by the respondents / Public Works Department (PWD) officials.
  • The Flow Meter must be sealed in such a way to prevent any tampering by any person. Quantum of Water to be extracted by individuals, are to be fixed periodically as per the assessment to be made by the P.W.D. Authorities as per the Regulations.
  • The respondents are directed to measure the quantum of water extracted by the establishments/persons by taking meter reading every Month and accordingly, the same is to be regulated.
  • The respondents are directed to follow all other terms and conditions fixed for grant of licence/permission for Extraction of Ground Water for commercial usage as per the guidelines issued in G.O.Ms.No.142, Public Works Department dated 23.07.2014.
  • The respondents are directed to register the Police complaint in the event of identifying any excess Extraction of Ground Water by tampering the Flow Meters sealed or by any other means by any person. The case must be registered Under Section 379 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). In addition, if the water is wasted for causing wrongful loss, then Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will also attract.
  • The respondents are directed to suspend the licenses by issuing show cause notices and by providing an opportunity to the persons, who have involved in the offence of theft or violation of all other conditions stipulated in the Government Regulations, or if a criminal case is registered. If any person is convicted, then he shall be permanently debarred from getting licence for Extraction of Ground Water.

Next date of hearing in the case is 20th this month.

Read the Order Here