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LEGAL RIGHT TO SAFE DRINKING WATER

INTRODUCTION

Time and again one might have come across the soulful words of the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem `The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.

Today, the situation in India, our motherland is similar. The tsunamis and floods are drowning everything in one part of the golden bird and children, on the other hand, are crying because of their parched throats. Even though India has large water reserves in the form of the Himalayas in the north and the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal in the west, south, and east, there are still frequent water shortages throughout the country, which causes riots, and disputes over access to clean and safe drinking water.

CURRENT SITUATION IN INDIA

The 2012 National Water Policy mentioned that India is home to 18% of the world’s population with only about 4% of water resources. Even after major schemes of the Government and large funding, only about 44% of citizens have access to safe drinking water and this depletes to about 8% in the rural areas. The Ministry of Jal Shakti stated that India is in a water-stressed condition which itself is a red alert. In such a dreadful condition what should a citizen do?

RIGHT TO LIFE ENTAILS THE RIGHT TO WATER (ARTICLE 21)

The bulkiest constitution in the world has a remedy enshrined in itself for this problem of non-accessible drinking water, under the purview of Article 21-Right to Life. The right to life shelters the right to food, the right to clean water, and the right to health all of which have the right to clean and safe drinking water in their ambits. This was established by the case of Chameli Singh V. State of U.P. (1996) Supp (6) SCR 827. The topic of basic rights is pointed out by the court in this case where the court said that ‘the right to live guaranteed in any civilized society implies the right to food, water, a decent environment, education, medical care, and shelter. These are basic human rights known to any civilized society.’

Therefore, having access to safe drinking water is a fundamental right of the citizen which means that they can go to court as and when their rights get violated. Even the states can go to court when their right and access to safe and clean water gets denied, as in the case of Delhi water supply & sewage disposal V. State of Haryana (1996) SCC (2) 572. In this case, the court held that ‘Water is a gift of nature.’ The Court even set up a priority usage flow of river water by putting drinking in the first spot while stating that if water is used in other places for non-drinking purposes first then it will be like ‘mocking the force of nature.’ The judgment was such that the honourable court ordered that Delhi will get water for domestic use from Haryana through the river Jamuna to fill the two water reservoirs and treatment plants at Wazirabad and Hyderpur. But what will happen if there is no consumable water left and there is a drought-like situation in one’s area? Let’s look at a real-life example.

MISSING: WATER!

Since the 1972’s simmering drought in Maharashtra, one or the other part of the state has been drought-prone almost every year. Mr Vishwambhar Jagtap, a farmer in his interview told that he had to dig 36 tube wells to reach a source of water for his orchids. He informed the interviewer that they have money and land but the only thing they are always missing is water.

Though, the 2009 Act on borewells does not allow the digging of borewells or tube wells for an individual player. The amendment in the act states that borewells can be dug up only if all the members of the community or society are benefitting from it. Therefore, accessing the groundwater is now a difficult task.

Also, the groundwater level is continuously depleting and is a cause of worry for many. Due to this decreasing groundwater not only, the water is unavailable for daily consumption of human beings but its long-term deficit is that the rivers and lakes will dry up faster. Since now the water which earlier because of being excess used to find its way into the river, lake or sea bed will now not be available. Low levels of water in the water bodies will increase the evaporation rate, ultimately causing harm to sea life.

SOLUTION TO WATER SCARCITY

The Supreme Court of India has looked into the matter of water scarcity with concern and given the judgment of State of Orissa v. Government of India WRIT PETITION (CIVIL)NO.443 of 2006. It was stated that the only true answer to the country’s water scarcity problem can be found by scientifically using the enormous water reserves in the sea and the ice mountains. In terms of seawater, the fundamental issue is how to turn saline water into fresh water in a cost-effective manner. Distillation and reverse osmosis have been used so far, but these are expensive processes and cannot be used at large scales in every part of India just yet.

Therefore, we as a nation need to do scientific research to identify low-cost solutions for this gigantic problem of water shortage that our people face every day. Also, the rainwater must be scientifically handled so that it can be reused and one can save on clean water for daily errands. Similarly, the enormous water reserves in the Himalayas in the form of ice can be used to benefit the people of the North and Central Indian states greatly and relieve the pressure on the river bodies only. This will result in a smaller number of water disputes arising in India as well. As a result, science is the only way to fix this problem.

State of Orissa v. Government of India, 2006

 The arguments presented made the court lookout for new technology and direct bodies to search for cheaper alternative methods to access clean and safe water. As a result, the recommendation was made to the Central Government to immediately form a body of eminent scientists in the field who should be asked to conduct scientific research in this area on a war footing to find scientific ways and means of solving the country’s water shortage problem. The Central and State Governments should provide all financial, technical, and administrative assistance to this group of scientists. They should be asked by the Central and State Governments to undertake their patriotic duty to the nation in this regard, as well as conduct scientific studies to find solutions to the country’s water shortage crisis. The Court advised the indigenous scientists to seek help and guidance, if necessary, from foreign companions who have dealt with the issue of water scarcity in the past.

Ultimately, the body of scientists has a set of tasks to perform, which included finding one or more inexpensive methods to convert salt water to fresh water and an economical and practical method of using the water that is in the form of ice in the Himalayas. Also, having a workable method for harvesting rainwater and harnessing flood waters by using rivers so that excess water during floods, rather than causing damage, is used for people with water shortages or stored in reservoirs for use during droughts.

CONCLUSION

Safe drinking water is a sacred commodity, a legal, and a fundamental right of the citizens and this has been repeatedly stated by our motherland’s honourable courts as well. This right can only be protected by stopping the hoarding of fresh water and drinking water sources by a few and rather looking into the matter that water is reaching all the parts equally. The distribution of drinking water should be looked over by the Municipal and the local bodies. Now, it is on the shoulders of me and you to safeguard this free access to water and hand it over to future generations.

Author(s) Name: Charu Kohli (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi)

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