Water, water, everywhere,And all the boards did shrink;Water, water, everywhere,Nor any drop to drink
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, has written the above poem in 1797–98 and was published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Those words have become prediction of climate and became reality in India in 2016. The scarcity of water has reached to such stage where the Central Government has to supply potable water in railway wagons.
In 1860, Lord Macaulay provided in the Indian Penal Code a provision, making it punishable, a person who is fouling water of public spring or the reservoir. The violator has to undergo an imprisonment which may extend to three months and fine which may extend to five hundred rupees.
Soon after the Stockholm Declaration of United Nations the Indian Parliament has made the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. It is intended to provide for the prevention and control of water pollution and maintaining or restoring of awesomeness of water, for the establishment, with a view to carrying out for the prevention and control of water pollution. To execute the said law, the Government of India has established Central and State Pollution Control Boards. The Ministry of Environment and Forests Department (now the same Department has also added the words ‘Climate Change Department”) was established to protect the environment. In addition to distribute water authorities have been formed to levy cess and charges for the distribution of water.
But the said laws have failed to protect the natural sources of drinking water which is the only source of water. Supreme Court of India has rendered many judgments declaring that the right to water is a fundamental right enshrined under the Constitution of India. Every generation has a duty to all succeeding generations to develop its natural resources of the nation in the best possible way. It is in the interest of mankind and the nation. Rivers, which are the source of potable and well water, are precious natural resource indispensable for human survival. The Constitutional and statutory provisions protect a person’s right to fresh air, clean water and pollution free environment, but the source of the right is the inalienable common law right of clean environment. Our legal system having been founded on the British Common Law the right of a person to pollution free environment is a part of the basic jurisprudence of the land, the Supreme Court has rendered judgment which was followed in many cases, which is described as judicial activism by the inactive executors of the above laws.
The saga continued. The water pollution made it possible to develop new industries. Mineral water manufacturing, equipments for purifying water have become flourishing industries only because of pollution. Bore wells were sunk in many places. For bulk water needs tanker lorries and railway wagons have been depended. The processing activities like purification of water, preparation of the bottled drinks, cleaning of bottles, etc generated a large quantum of contaminated waters and chemical waste besides plastic, paper, metallic and other solid waste.
The legislature was forced to determine the quality of water to be maintained while selling it. Schemes like a river linking have failed. The massive dams constructed for storing water has been found to be insufficient. A separate Ministry was formed for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
But those steps taken by the legislative measures, executive actions and judicial intervention have not able to get potable water to the public through their taps. At least five decades back the tap water is considered as a safe water for drinking, like many other countries. But the so called development has polluted our natural source of drinking water. India has targeted for establishing fourth generation bullet trains, modern satellites, air craft’s, mobile phones, computers, etc. Will there be people to enjoy the same. In none of the developed countries water is supplied in plastic bottles and the tap water is not safe for drinking. But in India we have not even thought of necessity to supply potable water to the millions who requires water every day though the taps. Cables have been laid to make available fourth generation internet and electricity. But we have not even thought of necessity to supply potable water to all, the basic necessity which is required for each mankind.
Though we have plenty of water resources than any other country, the Indians are not able to make use of the same. There is no proper distribution of drinking water by the State machinery which has delegated the said duty to the Panchayats. It is not due to lack of implementation of any laws the water is not being supplied. The supply of drinking water through taps should be the first preference. Artificial tanks may be set up by the local self governments to store enough rain water for supply in their area. Water pollution should be taken as a serious crime against the general public.
I re-wrote the above poem as follows:-
Water, water, nowhere, Our rivers have shrunk ; Our life is under threat;
Nor any more drop to waste
 Vellore Citizens Forum vs Union of India. AIR 1996 SC 2715
P.B.Sahasranaman is a Lawyer practicing in High Court of Kerala