& Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors.  INSC 840 (28 April 2009)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION WRIT PETITION(C) NO.230 OF 2001
M.K.Balakrishnan & Others Petitioners versus Union of India & Others
Respondents ORDER On 26th March, 2009 we had passed a detailed order relating
to the problem of water shortage in our country and we had issued notice to the
Secretary, Ministry of Science & Technology asking him to file a counter
affidavit within four weeks stating what measures have been taken to solve the
water problem in the country and for implementing the recommendations given by
one of us (Hon'ble Mr. Justice Markandey Katju) in the decision in State of
Orissa vs. Government of India & another JT 2009(2) SC 233.
immense reservoirs of water in the form of the Himalayas in the North and the
Arabian sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in the West, South and East of
India, there are water shortages everywhere often leading to riots, road blocks
and other disturbances and disputes for getting water. In many cities, in many
colonies people get water for half an hour in a day, and -2- sometimes not even
that e.g. in Delhi, South India, Rajasthan, U.P., Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra,
Northeast, etc.. In large parts of rural areas there is shortage of water for
irrigation and drinking purpose. Rivers in India are drying up, ground water is
being rapidly depleted, and canals are polluted. The Yamuna in Delhi looks like
a black drain. Several perennial rivers like the Ganga and Brahamputra are
rapidly becoming seasonal. Rivers are dying or declining, and aquifers are
getting over-pumped. Industries, hotels, etc. are pumping out groundwater at an
alarming rate, causing sharp decline in the groundwater levels.
Farmers are having a
hard time finding ground water for their crops e.g. in Punjab.
In many places there
are serpentine queues of exhausted housewives waiting for hours to fill their
buckets of water. In this connection John Briscoe has authored a detailed World
Bank report, in which he has mentioned that despite this alarming situation
there is widespread complacency on the part of the authorities in India.
In our opinion it is
science alone which can solve this problem ( as well as the other gigantic
problems facing the country).
India has a strong
heritage of science. With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations
thousands of -3- years ago when most people in Europe (except in Greece and
Rome) were living in forests. We had made outstanding scientific discoveries
and inventions in the past (see Will Durants' `The Story of Civilization : Our
Oriental Heritage). However, we subsequently took to the unscientific path of
superstitions and empty rituals, which has led us to disaster. The way out
therefore for our nation is to once again turn to the scientific path shown by
our ancestors - the path of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, Sushrut and Charak,
Ramanujan and Raman.
It is indeed sad
that a country like India which scientifically solved the problem of town
planning 6000 years ago in the Indus Valley Civilization and which discovered
the decimal system in Mathematics and Plastic Surgery in Medicine in ancient
times, and is largely managing Silicon Valley in U.S.A. today has been unable
to solve the problem of water shortage till now. In our opinion there is no
dearth of eminent scientists in the field who can solve this problem, but they
have not been organized and brought together and not been requested by the Central
and State Governments to do their patriotic and sacred duty to solve this
problem, nor given the facilities for this.
In our opinion the
right to get water is a part of -4- the right to life guaranteed by Article 21
of the Constitution. In this connection, it has been observed by the Court in
Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking and Anr. vs. State of
Haryana and Ors. 1996(2) SCC 572 :
"Water is a gift
of nature. Human hand cannot be permitted to convert this bounty into a curse,
The primary use to
which water is put being drinking, it would be mocking nature to force the
people who live on the bank of a river to remain thirsty"..........
Similarly in Chameli
Singh & Ors. vs. State of U.P. & Ors. 1996(2) SCC 549 this Court observed
to live guaranteed in any civilized society implies the right to food, water,
decent environment, education, medical care and shelter. These are basic human
rights known to any civilized society. All civil, political, social and cultural
rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention or
under the Constitution of India cannot be exercised without these basic human
We, therefore, direct
the Central government to forthwith constitute a Committee to address the
problems referred to in our order dated 26th March, 2009 which shall do
scientific research on a war footing for solving the water shortage in most
parts of our country because of which -5- our people are suffering terribly. Without
water there can be no life, as the Hindi poet Rahim wrote, and Article 21 of
our Constitution guarantees the right to life to all persons living in India.
Government is, therefore, directed to form this Committee to address the water
shortage problem at the earliest, latest within two months from today. This
Committee shall have the Secretary, Union Ministry of Science & Technology
as its Chairman. Amongst the members of the Committee will be the Secretary,
Union Ministry of Water Management. The other members of the Committee will be
scientists specialized in the field of solving water shortage problems
nominated by the Chairman of the Committee and they are requested to take help
from foreign scientists specialized in this field. The members of the Committee
should regard this work as a patriotic duty, and the entire people of India
including N.R.Is. settled abroad should help this Committee.
The Committee is
directed to do scientific research on a war footing to solve the water shortage
in the country. In particular the Committee shall do the following:
research on a war footing to find out inexpensive methods of converting saline
water into fresh water. This will be very useful in the -6- coastal states
because the sea has almost an infinite amount of water reserves and the only
problem is to find out an inexpensive methods to convert it into fresh water.
The present methods like distillation, reverse osmosis etc. are very expensive
methods and cannot be afforded by a poor country like India.
Hence we have to find
out inexpensive methods and this is only possible by scientific research.
research to find out methods of harnessing and managing monsoon rain water and
also to manage the flood waters and also to do research in rain water
harvesting, and treatment of waste water so that it may be recycled and
available as potable water.
Any other methods or
suggestions including for matters for protection and preservation of wet lands
and matters connected thereto.
This Committee should
be given all the financial, technical and administrative help by the Central
and State Governments for this purpose. The Committee is requested to do
patriotic duty to the nation in this connection, and by scientific research to
find out the ways of solving the water shortage problem in the country. The
help and advice of foreign scientific experts and/or Indian scientists settled
abroad who are specialized in this field may also be taken, since the solution
to the problem will not only help India but also foreign countries which are
facing the same -7- problem, some of which may already have progressed
significantly in this area.
In our opinion, this
is absolutely essential now because the whole country is reeling under acute
shortage of water as referred to in our order dated 26 th March, 2009, some
details of which have been given in the said order.
We propose to monitor
this case from time to time. For this purpose this matter will be listed on the
second Tuesday possibly of every alternative month. List again on the 11th
August, 2009, on which date a progress report will be submitted before us by the
Chairman of the Committee who is requested to be personally present before us.
Thereafter the case will be listed on the 20th October, 2009 and so on.
The Registry of this
Court shall send a copy of this order to the members of the Committee mentioned