Water is the most vital source of our lives. An adult individual contains 75% of water present in his or her body. Even if the body of the individual loses water with a percentage of less than 2% present, it leads to dehydration, thus, becoming a cause for various other diseases. Thus, water is a very crucial part of a human being’s life which should even be clean as it leads to various diseases. On the surface of Earth, more than two-third is the area which is covered with water. From that ratio, only less than 1% of water is the one which is fit for consumption of the living beings present on the surface of earthwhich is available in the form of rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers. Hence, it is clear that this precious resource which is an important element for sustaining life on the planet is present in a very small quantity. It is observed that as the population is growing with a fast pace, similarly is the need for water for various activities like- drinking, farming, sanitation, production of energy etc. is growing.
At the same time various other occurrences are happening which are leading to depletion of water bodies, thus, posing to be a big challenge. Various human activities, climatic changes, pollution, development of infrastructure, extraction of resources etc. are creating disruption of natural water cycles,thus, creating a pressure on the freshwater availability.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is an organization of United Nations formed in 1972 that works for the sustainable development of environment by practicing of various activities which are environment friendly. UNEP promotes usage of the natural resources in a manner such that the needs of the future generation are not compromised. UNEP has framed seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)in its Agenda 2030 such that, by this year (2030) the unsustainable consumption of resources is turned into a sustainable one which benefits all. The sixth goal among SDGs of UNEP is ‘clean water and sanitation’. Through this goal the organization tries to put forth the urge to conserve and preserve the freshwater available such that its depletion which is currently happening at a faster pace because of various factors can be reduced.
In India depletion of freshwater is occurring at a very fast rate. The major cause for this depletion is pollution being done by the people in various water bodies. One of the most alarming situation is that of river Ganga. There is an urgent need to preserve and protect the river from the pollution as it will affect almost 37% of population of India that is residing on the Ganga Basin and also agricultural farms of almost eight states which derive water from river Ganga. The government of India as well as UNEP are working in coordination for combating the pollution of water and its contamination. Also, the Supreme Court of India through various cases has declared Right to Water as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.Various programs as well as judicial acts have been enacted for conservation of water.
v ABOUT UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME (UNEP):
United Nations Environment Programme is an organization of United Nations which was formed in the year 1972 on 5th June. Due to its reason of formation on the respective date, World Environment Day is celebrated across the worldevery year on this date. UNEP was formed by the efforts of its first director Maurice Strong atUnited Nations Conference on the Human Environment which was held in Stockholm. It has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.It is an organization that promotes environment friendly activities to be adopted by every individual for a sustainable environment. The various areas under which it works include marine ecosystem, atmosphere, terrestrial ecosystem, environmental governance and green economy. It has also helped the countries in combating the pollution by forming various treaties and guidelines for the same.It also has formulated Agenda 2030 which contains seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be targeted at while consumption of the natural resources such as-poverty, health, food and agriculture, water and sanitation, human settlements, energy, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, oceans, and terrestrial ecosystems. It promotes that instead of the unsustainable consumption of the resources, they should be used in a manner such that the needs of the future generation are not compromised.
The mission of UNEP as stated is as follows:
“To provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”
v UNEP ADOPTION OF CLEAN WATER AS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL IN AGENDA 2030:
The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)as in Agenda 2030 were adopted at United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held from 25th September to 27th September, 2015 at New York.Clean water was adopted as goal no. 6 in Agenda 2030. Within this 6.6 goal specifically talks about preservation, protection and conservation of water-related ecosystems which include- rivers, wetlands, aquifers and lakes.
The starting point of making SDGs a part of Agenda 2030, was the decision to implement such goals which was taken at the conference- The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – or Rio+20 which washeld at Rio de Janeiro in 2012 from 20th to 22nd June.
The theme of the conference held was, “The Future we want,”which recognized that water is the lifeblood of the planet Earth, thus, claiming it as the most essential element in terms of sustainable development. In the year 2014, UN-Water gave a recommendation of five areas to be targeted in order to get a dedicated SDG for water which includes: (i) WASH; (ii) water resources; (iii) water governance; (iv) water quality and wastewater management; and (v) water-related disasters. If there remains a dedication in this respect then development will take place in terms of all including health, education, agriculture and food production, energy, industry and other social and economic activities. Many objectives of sustainable development of water will not be achieved if the crucial role of water is not well recognized, use of water resources is not assessed and challenges related to water are not properly addressed. If water is managed well and decisions taken regarding it are addressed properly thenit will become a big aid in handling other development challenges as well which include urbanization, sustainable development of industries, growth of economy, eradicating poverty, ensuring security of food and conserving threatened ecosystem.
The two-third of the surface of planet Earth is covered with water. Only less than 1% of the water that is present in rivers, wetlands, aquifers and lakes as freshwater is fit for consumption of living beings. The available water was depleting at a faster rate because of various activities. The urge to protect it from getting extinguished led to adoption of water as a sustainable goal by UNEP.
The central issues which exist for 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development include- people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership (5 P’s). Around these revolve the opportunities to achieve life of dignity for all, which includes the future generation also, to be addressed in harmony with nature.
v ROLE OF UNEP IN COLLABORATION WITH INDIAN GOVERNMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE GOAL OF CLEAN WATER:
In order to address the new and emerging challenges in water resources management, UNEP has revised its Water Policy and Strategy. Its core purpose is to facilitate effective implementation of UNEP freshwater functions. The overall goal is to provide sustainability of all water resources and thus, leading to socio-economic growth. There exist various ‘conceptual’ and ‘operational principles’ for UNEP to implement its water mandates. The principles include:
· “Conceptual principles:
1. Promote ecosystem-based approaches
2. Contribute to sound economic and social development, including poverty reduction, through management of water resources and associated ecosystems
3. Address risks
· Operational principles
1. Build on existing programmes and partnerships and form new partnerships
2. Promote multi-stakeholder participation.”
193 member states including India at UN General Assembly Summit gathered in New York in September 2015 and adopted Agenda 2030 which contained seventeen SDGs and 169 targets. UN has aided the Government of India by advising on the core reasons for lack of access to clean water resulting in poor health and diseases.
It is seen that the policy initiatives of India of “development with all, and for all,” are a clear indication that the policies will well converge with the SDGs established. India has developed a think tank for coordinating with SDGs called as NITI Aayog. It has undertaken the initiative of bringing out the schemes as well as allotted work to different ministries for achieving differentand varied goals of SDGs.
In addition, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) has been leading discussions for developing national indicators for the SDGs. State governments are key to India’s progress on the SDG Agenda and several of them have already initiated action on implementing the SDGs.
Many programmes launched by the government are the core of the SDGs. These include programmes such as Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Skill India, andDigital India. State and local governments play a very vital role in many of these programmes.
The United Nations in India supports the efforts of NITI Aayog to address the goals by ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’ and also by providing adequate finance such that SDGs are achieved. By building a close collaboration with NITI Aayog and partners, the UN has supported thematic consultations on the SDGs to bring together various state governments, central ministries, civil society organizations and academia to deliberate on specific SDGs.
It is seen that nearly 600 million people are the ones in India who are indulged in open defecation. This is the highest number in the world. This is the root cause for pollution in water specially the rivers, the main target being river Ganga. Government of India has launched various programmes like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to clean India, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, and Namami Gange, which aims at the conservation of the River Ganga, thus, trying to rejuvenate it.
v GANGA REJUVENATION:
It was observed that river Ganga is one of the most polluted rivers in world. It is one of the major rivers to be considered in India because of the reason that- 37% of the population of India is residing at the basin of Ganga, it drains almost eight states across the nation, and 47% of total irrigated area in India is located at Ganga basin. Since Ganga is getting polluted it is harming a huge amount of population whether be in terms of residence or farming. Also now it is seen that most of the urban areas are building nearby to the rivers and with the rapid increase in commerce and communication, the pollution is increasing to a great extent.
The main reasons found for pollution of river Ganga are domestic waste, industrial waste, solid garbage that is thrown directly into the river, pollution from agriculture containing residues of harmful fertilizers and pesticides, animal carcasses, half-burned and unburned human corpses, defecation on the banks of the river, mass bathing and other ritual practices.The pollution that is created in the river leads to various diseases in the body of the living beings, causes destruction to the marine animals as well as plants, affects the crops, etc.
The efforts to clean Ganga have been going on from many decades. In the year 1986 on 14th January, the Government of Rajiv Gandhi launched the ‘Ganga Action Plan’ in order to clean Ganga. However, the plan could achieve its end objectives. In May 2015, the Government of BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a programme called ‘Namami Gange’ under the National Mission to Clean Ganga (NMCG). It was a programme which aims at integrating the efforts to clean and protect river Ganga. It will cover 8 states and 47 towns under the project.
Various number of projects worth Rs.4, 000 crores have been approved by the NMCG to rejuvenate river Ganga. These would be carried out in major cities of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.A total number of 187 projects have been sanctioned under the ‘Namami Gange’ programme. The Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitley at the time of presentation of annual budget for 2018 stated that 47 out of these 187 projects have been completed already and the remaining ones are still in progress.
Also, in an interview the Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation in the Government of India, Nitin Gadkari has said, “By March 2019, Ganga will be cleaner by at least 80%,” at the ET Global Business Summit held at New Delhi from 23rd to 24th February, 2018. He also added that the already existing initiatives along with CSR initiatives carried out by the companies are helping Ganga in a great extent to become pollution free.
Also on 5th June, 2018, India has taken the initiative of hosting the World Environment Day celebrations as jointly announced on 19th February, 2018 by Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and Erik Solheim, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Head of UN Environment. The main theme of the celebration will be, ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. This is one of the focal point of the government for sustainable development because maximum of the plastics are thrown in the water bodies which leads to death of marine animals. UNEP came up with the idea of ‘break-up’ with plastic, which asks everyone around the world to break-up with single-use plastics, such as mineral water bottles and straws. It was promoted by the UN Environment goodwill ambassador of India, Dia Mirza.It is a part of cleaning water bodies campaign. In the commercial video she says, “I urge you to give up the toxic relationship with plastics and find a new love. We can all start by choosing a forever relationship with real love for cloth shopping bags and metal or glass water bottles, re-usable coffee mugs and saying no to straws. Breaking up with single use plastic can really help save our oceans and beat pollution.”
v RIGHT TO WATER IN INDIA:
Water is the most essential part of life of a person. If there occurs any denial of right to water, it implies denial of right to life. Right to water has not been explicitly included in the Constitution of India as a Fundamental Right, but has been interpreted to be so as per various judgements. As per the plethora of judgements, Article 21 of the Constitution has been interpreted to include a right to clean and sufficient water, a right to a decent and well life, a right to live with dignity and with peace, and a right to a humane and healthy environment which would with utmost certainty imply a right to water to all the members of the society be it is a human or animal.
Article 21 i.e. ‘Right to life’ of the Indian constitution very lucidly states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
In the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs. Union of Indiain the year 1984, the Supreme Court as a part of ‘right to life’ under Article 21 derived the concept of right to ‘healthy environment’.
The Supreme Court as well as several high Courts in States upheld the rights of citizens to have access to clean drinking water as a fundamental right under Article 21. In the case of Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar, it was held by the Supreme Court that the right to live includes,“The right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.”
The Supreme Court in the case of M.C. Mehta v Kamalnath, held that the State is bound to regulate supply of water and also help the citizens to realize the right to healthy water and prevent all kind of health hazards. The famous principle of Roman Law-‘salus populi est suprema lex’, which means‘welfare of the people is paramount law’.This is the most abiding faith in the Constitution of India by which the ‘State is assigned to help people realize their rights and needs’.
It was held in the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan v Union of Indiathat, “Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right to life and human right as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and can be served only by providing source of water where there is none.”
Thus, as per the judicial pronouncements it is clear that in the Constitution of India every citizen has a right of clean drinking water and a right of protecting water from getting polluted under Article 21. Courts have not only called right to water as a fundamental right, but has also called it as a ‘social asset’.
Apart from including the ‘right to water’ within ‘right to life’, the Apex court in the context of water pollution came out with mandatory direction of cleaning up of water sources including the rivers in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of Indiaand tanks and wells in the case of Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi.
Many enactments have been passed in concern with water and its resources for various purposes like- drinking, irrigation, and rehabilitation of those people who have been evacuated. However, in these stated laws there is no mention about an explicit ‘right to water’. It is clear from the judicial pronouncements that people and communities have to claim these rights related to water back from the authorities.
In addition, three major enactments which address water pollution and water quality problems have been enlisted below:
- Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and
- Indian Easements Act, 1882
1. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
The legislation was framed in the year 1974 with the intention to prevent and control pollution of water and maintain and restore the wholesomeness of water.
Also, under this act, Central and state pollution control boards have been constituted to prevent pollution of water as well as promote its cleanliness. The state pollution control board carries out the programs which are identical to the Central pollution control board within the territory of the state in which they are appointed.
The boards have been provided with various functions which include establishing quality of water, research, planning as well as investigation in order to encourage cleanliness of water bodies and to control pollution of the same.
Under section 2 (e) of the Act, water pollution has been defined. It has been treated as an evil that has harmed the health of public. It is defined 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 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 aquatic organisms.”
2. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 extends to maintaining quality of water and the control of pollution of the water bodies. Section 2(a) of the Act gives the definition of environment which includes water as well as the interrelationship that exists between water and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property. The Act helps in providing authority to the Central Government to establish proper standards for the quality of the environment and for emissions of discharge from sources of variety of environmental pollutants.
3. Indian Easements Act, 1882
This Act clearly recognizes the right of an owner called as the riparian owner who is a person who owns a land which is adjoining to a river or a water stream to unpolluted waters. A riparian owner is the one who has a right towards usage of the stream which flows past his land. Section 7 of the Act clearly talks about the right of the riparian owner to have right to a continued flow of water of natural stream without any destruction or pollution in its natural flow.
The Apex Court in the case of MC Mehta v Union of India, recognized and revived the doctrine of riparian rights of owners. The court in this case said, “The petitioner is a riparian owner and is a person interested in protecting the lives of the people who use of the water flowing in the river Ganga and his right to maintain the petition cannot be disputed. The nuisance caused by the pollution of the river Ganga is a public nuisance, which is wide spread in range and indiscriminate in its effect and it would not be reasonable to expect any particular person to take proceedings to stop it as distinct from the community at large.” The case was filed against the Municipal Corporation and admitted as PIL.
It is seen that water is one of the most essential part of life. It should not only be preserved, but also, steps should be taken for protecting it from being depleted. UNEP has taken a step for its protection by keeping the target of cleaning the water bodies by the year 2030 across the world as a part of sustainable development goals. UNEP suggests that water should not be polluted and be used in a judicious manner such that the needs of the future generation are not compromised. UNEP is working in coordination with the Government of India for protecting its freshwater present in the country through various projects. The most endangered river which is a life support for most of the people of India is river Ganga, which has been polluted to a great extent. Various schemes, case laws and projects have been allotted for cleaning of the river, but, due to the non-cooperation of people the project has been a failure till now.
Also, various case laws have made the Right to Clean Water as a Fundamental Right by interpreting it within Article 21 i.e. Right to Life of the Constitution. But, still the results are not up to the mark. The water is getting polluted at a large scale and people are dying because of consumption of this polluted water. It can be seen that if too much water is polluted, it will lead to vanishing of clean water available in the country. India should take a lesson from Cape Town which is currently facing the situation of severe drought. In order to avoid the possible shut-off in mid-April, their Government has tightened its flexibility in providing water to the people and created a strict restriction for the same. Similarly, it’s time for India to build up strict laws such that the attempt of the people to pollute the water is restricted to a great extent and henceforth, the fresh water remains safe from contamination.Proper water resource management schemes should be implemented and taught to the general public so that, they can also become a part of preventing freshwater from being contaminated. Ideas from the people regarding preservation of water bodies and preventing pollution of water should also be entertained such that they become more participative and tend to work more towards the same. This should be promoted also for the reason that general people will have much better ideas about the cause of pollution and its recourse in comparison to the official authorities appointed for the same.
By: Minali Gupta
Symbiosis Law School, Noida