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Ganga And Yamuna: Violation Of Human Rights Of Sacred Rivers

India, home to a staggering population of one billion people, cherishes its sacred rivers[1] with unparalleled reverence. Among these revered water bodies, the Ganga and Yamuna hold a unique place, considered as the very embodiment of divine purity. These rivers have been the cradle of civilization and the lifeline of countless communities for centuries, shaping the cultural, spiritual, and ecological landscape of the nation.

However, behind the veil of devotion and admiration lies a disheartening reality: the very worshippers of these holy rivers have become unwitting accomplices in their degradation. Astonishingly, nearly 90% of household wastewater, laden with untreated contaminants, is directly dumped into these rivers. This influx of pollutants, including laundry detergents and chemicals, has contributed to a worrisome surge in phosphate levels, triggering the formation of unsightly froth that belies the divine essence of these once-pristine waters.

In a significant legal milestone, the Ganges river in India has been granted the status of a human entity, possessing the same legal rights as individuals. Citing Article 48-A and 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution, which emphasizes the state's duty to protect and improve the natural environment, including rivers, the court bench, led by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, recognized the Ganges as a legal entity. This landmark decision stemmed from a plea presented by the Uttarakhand government and highlights the judiciary's commitment to environmental preservation.

The court's decision aligns with the constitutional principles that mandate the protection and compassion for all living creatures, including rivers, forests, lakes, and wildlife. By granting the Ganges river the status of a legal entity, the court empowers itself to make judgments that prioritize environmental protection.

Environmental Degradation and Violations:

The untreated waste water which is being poured by chemical factories, the open sewages The Yamuna is particularly polluted downstream of New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about 58% of its waste into the river.[2] The biodiversity of the National River Ganga is facing significant threats to its ecological integrity.[3] The construction of hydro-electric projects has fragmented the river, disrupting the migration routes of important fish species.

Additionally, habitat alteration caused by activities like mining and waste dumping has led to changes in the river's morphology, reducing stream width and altering flood plains and riparian vegetation. Human activities such as water abstractions, pollution from domestic and industrial waste, and the invasion of exotic species further exacerbate the problem. Encroachment on floodplains and river banks, along with nutrient depletion, adds to the challenges faced by the river's biodiversity.

To protect and restore the Ganga river system, it is crucial to address these threats by promoting sustainable practices, enforcing regulations, and implementing measures to improve habitat connectivity, reduce pollution, and prevent the introduction of invasive species.[4]

Legal Remedies and Judicial Interventions:

The government of India recognizes that rivers, as living entities, State have inherent rights that should be protected.[5]To fulfill this duty, Oriental Gas Company Act, 1857: This act is considered as one of the first attempts to control water pollution in India. Section 15 of this act provided that gas generated by this company should not foul any water stream, reservoir or any other source of water. If company violates this section, then the company will be entitled to pay sum of Rs. 1000 to the Government. Even if company continues to violate the same, then company was required to pay Rs. 500 each day.

After that The Northern India Canal and Drainage Act, 1873 for the alteration in any water stream and In 1974 the government introduced the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act which aims to prevent water pollution and ensure the maintenance and restoration of water bodies. It establishes the Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards to facilitate the implementation of the Act. These boards have the authority to conduct research, investigations, and advise the government on environmental issues and water pollution prevention.

The Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Cess Act, 2003, addresses the issue of water pollution caused by industrial waste. Industries often discharge their waste into rivers, resulting in significant pollution. This Act defines industries as operations, processes, sewage, disposal treatments, or any industrial effluent. It imposes a cess, or a tax, on industries that generate pollutants during their operations.

The Indian judiciary has recognized the right to clean water as an inherent part of the Right to Life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.[6] This interpretation includes the right to a clean environment as protected by Article 48 and the duty of citizens to preserve the environment under Article 51(g).[7] To discourage the deliberate fouling of public reservoirs or springs, Section 277 of the Indian Penal Code provides for a punishment of imprisonment for three months, a fine of 500 Rupees, or both

The Government of India launched various action plans to address the pollution and conservation of rivers. The Namami Gange program, started in July 2014 with a budget of Rs 20,000 crores, aimed to develop and revive the Ganga River. It focused on financing infrastructure investments for reducing pollution, including wastewater treatment plants, sewerage networks, industrial pollution control, solid waste management, and riverfront development. Progress has been made through sewage treatment capacity creation, riverfront development, river surface cleaning, establishment of biodiversity centers, and awareness campaigns.

For the Yamuna River, a bilateral project b\w Government of India and Japan called the Yamuna Action Plan was implemented in three phases. Yamuna Action Plan I (YAP I) took place from 1993 to 2002, with an extended phase in 2002-2003. This was followed by Yamuna Action Plan II (YAP II) from 2004 to 2011. The latest phase, Yamuna Action Plan Phase III, began in 2018 and aimed to make the Yamuna pollution-free through proper waste management and river cleaning. However, it has been considered a failure in achieving its objectives.

Needs Of Development
Whereas developed countries like Germany In Germany, water pollution control is primarily regulated under the Wasserhaushaltsgesetz (Water Resources Act) and the Bundesimmissionsschutzgesetz (Federal Emission Control Act). These laws provide the legal framework for protecting water resources, preventing pollution, and regulating discharges into water bodies. Additionally, Germany has specific regulations and standards, such as the Abwasserverordnung (Wastewater Ordinance) and the Oberfl�chengew�sserverordnung (Surface Water Ordinance), which set out detailed requirements and limits for pollutant discharges and water quality.

These laws and regulations work in conjunction to ensure comprehensive water pollution control in Germany where as USA also has different acts inclusive of public India's approach to tackling water pollution has been predominantly sectorial, and unfortunately, it has been largely unsuccessful. Several factors contribute to this failure, including an ineffective legislative framework and a lack of specific regulatory mechanisms to address the rapid industrial growth and population explosion in the country.

Although legislative steps have been taken, such as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, these laws need to be strengthened and made more stringent. Adequate provisions for funding must also be put in place.

To address these shortcomings, the author suggests several measures. Firstly, adopting a comprehensive environmental law that takes into account the interconnectedness of natural resources and draws lessons from successful environmental legal systems worldwide. Secondly, raising public awareness about water pollution is crucial.

This includes educating citizens about their fundamental duties towards the environment and providing information on how they can actively contribute to its protection. Involving schools and teachers in these awareness initiatives is vital. Lastly, ensuring the effective utilization of funds and allocating sufficient resources is of utmost importance. Given the sensitive nature of water pollution issues, it is crucial that allocated funds are utilized appropriately to address the problem effectively.

  1. The World Bank, 'How is India addressing its water needs?' (World Bank, February 14 2023) accessed 29 July 2023.
  2. Dr Anil Kumar, 'Yamuna River Pollution And Sustainable Solutions For The Future' (, 22 July 2022) accessed on 29 July 2023.
  3. MC Mehta vs. The Union of India, [1987] 4 SCC 463.
  4. India Science Technology and Innovation, 'Ecosystem Restoration of Ganga River Basin' (30th July 2021) accessed on 29 July.
  5. MC Mehta vs. The Union of India, [1987] 4 SCC 463.
  6. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, [1991] AIR 420, [1991] SCR (1) 5.
  7. Narmada Bachao Andolan Vs. The Union of India, [2000] 10 S.C.C. 664.

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