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Analysis of water pollution regulations in India and China

Part IV A, Article 51-A of the Indian Constitution talks about fundamental duties of every Indian citizen. As per this article every Indian citizen has an obligation to strive to protect and improve the natural environment, including lakes, forests, rivers and wildlife.. Water is considered polluted when toxic substances enter water bodies, such as lakes, rivers and oceans and tends to degrade the quality of the water while affecting the marine life inhabiting it.

The most common sources of water pollution are flow of untreated sewage and industrial waste discharge directly into the water bodies. In this paper i will compare the water pollution regulations in India with those in China and analyse which country is doing better with regard to safeguarding its natural water bodies.

The primary statute that governs water pollution in India is the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974.[1]The Ministry of Environments and Forests is the apex administrative authority in India with regard to regulating and protecting the environment and is responsible for laying down the regulatory and legal framework for the same. In addition to the MoEF, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards form the regulatory and administrative core of the sector.

The National Green Tribunal Act, The Environmental Protection Act and the Hazardous Waste Management Act are other legislations that supplement the Water Act in its efforts to protect water bodies.[2] In China, the People's Congress has implemented two major legislations that strive to protect water bodies, these are The Environmental Protection Law of the People's Republic of China and Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution. In addition the State council of China, in 2015 released the Water Pollution and Control Action Plan, also known as the Water Ten Plan and is considered China’s most comprehensive water regulation legislation.[3]

Analysis
The primary objects of the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974 are to prevent pollution of water bodies, to maintain them and to implement measures that encourage restoration of water bodies. Under the provisions of the act , the CPCB has the power to carry out research and promote and prevent pollution of water bodies.

The CPCB’s main function is to encourage keeping wells and streams clean and pollution free in different parts of the country, with collaboration with the State Pollution Control Board of each State. The CPCB has also been bestowed the authority to advise the Central Government on measures on how to control the different kinds of pollution.

The Water Ten Plan implemented in China essentially has 4 broad plans of action. These include:
  1. Control pollution discharge, promote economic & industrial transformation and save & recycle resources;
  2. Promote science & technology progress, use market mechanisms and enforce law & regulations;
  3. Strengthen management & ensure water environment safety; and
  4. Clarify responsibilities & encourage public participation.[4]
In contrast to the latest effort by the Chinese Government to regulate and prevent water pollution, the Indian Government's latest plan that was implemented was the promulgation of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

The Chinese Environmental Protection Law, 2015 has five essential pollution controls laid out and these are regular fines on offenders, seizure of polluting equipment and/or facilities, orders to stop production in case of excessive pollution,for very serious violations that are not crimes offenders can be detained and can suffer judicial sanctions[5]. Just a year after the implementation of this law, in 2016 there were approximately 22,730 cases that were cautioned under one of these measures.

Of these cases, seizure of equipment/facilities accounted for 44%, production limits and halts 25%, administrative detentions 18%, criminal charges 9% and daily fines 4%. Between 2014 and 2016, the People’s Court heard over 300,000 environment and natural resources-related cases, 2.5 times the total number during 2002-2011.[6]

In 2016 alone, courts accepted 133,000 civil cases related to environmental and resources issues. It was more than the decadal total, from 2002 to 2011. During January-September 2017, the number of daily fines rose by 57%, compared to the same period in 2016, garnering over RMB 960 million in fines. Concurrently, enforcement on disclosure has made significant progress: In 2016 alone, 115 environmental impact assessments were disqualified by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.[7]

India and China have adopted very different approaches to tackling the water pollution crisis in their respective territories. In India, the Central Government has directed States to take their own measures with regard to the water bodies in each respective state, however the Central Government has the power to intervene and direct the State’s to take certain policy measures if they feel that no effective actions have been taken to tackle the water crisis. China, on the other hand, has kept water policies in their control while empowering the provinces to implement their own measures as well. On a prima facie view of the regulations promulgated in India and China, it is evident that China has taken the issue of water pollution more seriously than India has.

The Ganga river in India is probably one of the most important rivers in the country as it holds religious value to hindu’s and it serves as a source of water for millions of Indians. Unfortunately this holy river starts off crystal clear from the Himalayas and turns into a toxic sludge as it makes its way past industrial areas and millions of devotees who use the water for bathing, washing clothes etc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged billions in funds for cleaning up the river, however no material action has taken place on this issue.[8]

In a report by Reuters in 2019, they found that only a tenth of the allocated funds had been spent in clean up efforts. In November 2019, the United Nations released a report wherein they held that the river is still immensely polluted and despite court judgements directing State Governments to ensure untreated sewage isn’t dumped into the river, the practice is till dominant and that 80% of the sewage that is dumped into two tributaries that feed the Ganges is untreated.

Further, the Central Pollution Control Board has declared that as a result of the high concentration of human waste, the water is not even safe to bathe in.[9]The Stella Silks v State of Karnataka[10]case is a prime example of how loose the regulations in place in India are and how easily loopholes in the law allows offenders to get away with no material consequences. In this particular case the ratio of the damage done by the offener to the punishment received by him is not proportional and the punishment had no material consequences.

The petitioner in this case had obtained consent from the Karnataka Pollution Board under section 25 of the water act to set up a textile business that involved dying of fabrics. The consent was given on the conditional basis and upon the petitioner violating these conditions by polluting a stream by discharging wastewater into it. The Board then ended up ordering the industry to close operations until further notice under section 33 of the act. In response the company filed a writ petition before the High Court questioning the legality of the order.

The court charged the petitioner company Rs 5,000 as a fine upon them continuing their operations as usual.[11] In my opinion, an immaterial fine like this will have no impact and will not deter companies from polluting and destroying natural resources. However, the result of this case can be seen as a step in the right direction but the environmental laws in India need to get more stringent and the pollution boards need to be harsh with punishments and fines.

The situation in China contrasts with that in India. In China, government bodies take serious action of repeated offenders and the regulatory bodies set up take initiative to tackle the water pollution problem in the country. Bodies like the National Environmental Protection Agency, The Provincial Environment Protection Bureau and the Municipal Environment Protection Bureau have been appointed to monitor pollution of water and air in different jurisdictions of the country.[12]

The Chinese Government has also released a table with fixed fines for waste water containing different pollutants and their quantities. The most stringent fine being 90,000 Yuan, which is around 9,87,000 INR.[13] A mere look at this table would make polluting industries re-consider their waste disposal practices and would encourage them to invest in treatment plants at their facilities. The fact that the fines have been fixed and publicly circulated shows the commitment by the Chinese Government to tackle this issue.

Since the 1980’s water borne heavy metal waste has reduced by 95% because the government took an initiative very early on to bring all the scattered metal industries into one centralized location and their wastewater is treated on site by implementing joint treatment methods. Another very dominant pollutant in China is organic waste, the Chinese Government dealt the first blow to this kind of pollutant back in the 1980’s by closing down paper factories which accounted for 25% of the organic pollution in the HuangPu River. In modern times pre treatment of waste water is a widely followed norm.[14]

Informal regulations and efforts by citizens is a crucial factor that needs to play a role in the fight against pollution. These will supplement efforts made by governments and other organisations. Some of these informal regulations include, encouraging use of products manufactured by environment friendly companies. Investors should be given incentives to invest in green technologies in their companies and treatment plants.

Tax deductions could be one such incentive. In addition, consumers control demand of products and if we as consumers start buying products from companies to invest in treatment equipment, they will see an increase in sales and therefore profits, this in turn could encourage companies with outdated equipment to also implement modern pollution free equipment in their businesses. [15]

Conclusion
In conclusion, I have found that China is far ahead of India in terms of its regulation and administration of water bodies. Water pollution is a crisis in both economies and both are very similar in terms of population, yet China continues to stay ahead of India in this regard. The Indian government needs to implement secondary and supplementary measures that ensure compliance with pollution regulations by private entities as well as state governments.

Most state governments do not allocate enough funds from their budget toward this crisis and this is something that needs to change if we are going to see improvements in the water quality of our precious rivers and oceans. The river Ganga is perishing, despite it being a source of livelihood for millions of Indians.Enforcement of fines and penalties is another key factor that needs to be worked on in India.

As seen in the Stella Silks case, a fine as small as 5,000 INR is immaterial to mid and large sized industries who discharge millions of litres of waste water into our streams. The monetary value of the fine must be increased tenfold and the possibility of a jail term must be included in the current statutes to actively deter pollution.

End-Notes:
  1. Vaish, V. and Mehta, H., 2020. Environment Laws In India. [online] Mondaq.com. Available at: [Accessed 4 October 2020].
  2. Vaish, V. and Mehta, H., 2020. Environment Laws In India. [online] Mondaq.com. Available at: [Accessed 4 October 2020].
  3. The Wire. 2020. What India Can Learn From China’S Environment Protection Reforms. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  4. China Water Risk. 2020. New ‘Water Ten Plan’ To Safeguard China’S Waters - China Water Risk. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  5. The Wire. 2020. What India Can Learn From China’S Environment Protection Reforms. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  6. The Wire. 2020. What India Can Learn From China’S Environment Protection Reforms. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  7. The Wire. 2020. What India Can Learn From China’S Environment Protection Reforms. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  8. Reuters. 2020. The Race To Save The River Ganges. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2020].
  9. Reuters. 2020. The Race To Save The River Ganges. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 October 2020].
  10. Stella Silks v State of Karnataka AIR Kar 219 2001
  11. Stella Silks v State of Karnataka AIR Kar 219 2001
  12. Who.int. 2020. Water Pollution Control. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2020].
  13. Who.int. 2020. Water Pollution Control. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2020].
  14. Who.int. 2020. Water Pollution Control. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 October 2020].
  15. Murthy, M. and Kumar, S., 2020. Water Pollution In India. [online] Idfc.com. Available at: [Accessed 17 October 2020].

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