Environmental Laws and Policies

India’s Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 – An overview

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 the first of a series of legislation passed by the Government of India pertaining to regulation of environmental aspects in the country. Rising water pollution due to industrial and domestic activities became a cause of concern, leading to the enaction of this legislation. This Act was followed by the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, and Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 (the last one was recently replaced by Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM), 2016). This post is a summary of the important aspects of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

The signature feature of this Act is the control of pollution through a permit or “consent administration” procedure. Discharge of effluents into water bodies was only allowed by obtaining the consent of the State Board, within restrictions it poses.

It is important to note that under the Indian Constitution, Water is a state subject. The Central Government cannot pass any legislation pertaining to state subjects unless such a legislation is approved by State Governments. This Act was passed after a majority of states of India (Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura and West Bengal and the Union territories) accepted this legislation.

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Photo from a cleanliness drive in Forest Research Institute, India. Credits: IFSA Local Chapter, FRI.

Aim of the Act

This is an Act to “provide for the prevention and control of water pollution and the maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness of water, for the establishment, with a view to carrying out the purposes aforesaid, of Boards for the prevention and control of water pollution, for conferring on and assigning to such Boards powers and functions relating thereto and for matters connected therewith.

To simplify this statement, this Act covers the following aspects of regulating water resources in the country:

  • To prevent and control water pollution.
  • To maintain “wholesomeness” of water, i.e. to maintain the qualities of water so that its consumption and use by living organisms is not hampered.
  • To establish State Boards for prevention and control of pollution, which gets subsumed by the Air Act, passed in 1981.
  • To empower the Boards for prevention and control of pollution.
  • To provide penalties for breaking the rules of the provisions under this Act.
  • To establish state water testing laboratories and develop its protocols.

The Act has 64 sections compiled in VIII chapters. Chapter II establishes the Central and State Pollution Control Boards; Chapter IV describes the powers of the Boards; Chapter V explains steps to prevent and control water pollution; and Chapter VII describes penalties and punishment procedure when these rules are flouted.

The Act was amended in 1978 and again in 1988. In 1988 Amendment made it conform closely with the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Salient features of the Act

Let us take a look at the major Sections of the Act.

  • Section 3 and Section 4: Constitution of the Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards, respectively, are provided the authority to exercise the powers conferred to them under this Act.
  • Section 13: Constitution of a Joint Board.
    Under this Section, the Act prescribes the constitution of a Joint Board for pollution control if there is an agreement between
    (a) two or more State Governments of contiguous states or,
    (b) Central Government (representing one or more Union Territories) and State Governments contiguous to one or more Union Territories.
  • Section 16: Functions of the Central Board are described, some of which include:
    1. Advise the Central Government on any matter concerning the prevention and control of water pollution
    2. Co-ordinate the activities of the State Boards and provide technical assistance and guidance
    3. Collect, compile and publish technical and statistical data relating to water pollution
    4. Establish or recognize a laboratory or laboratories to enable the Board to perform its functions under this section efficiently including the analysis of samples of water from any stream or well or of samples of any sewage or trade effluents
  • Section 17: Functions of the State Board are described, some of which include:
    1. Plan a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of pollution of streams and wells in the State and to secure the execution
    2. Advice the state government on matters of water pollution
    3. Inspect and lay down, modify or annul effluent standards for the sewage and trade effluents
    4. Evolve economical and reliable methods of treatment of sewage and trade effluents
  • Section 19: If the State Board feels that the provisions of this Act need not apply to some parts of the State, it may recommend the State Government to do so.
  • Section 20: This section provides power to the State Board to appoint person(s) on its behalf to take surveys of any area and gauge and keep records of flow, volume and other characteristics of streams and wells to perform its functions dutifully.
  • Section 33: This section gives power to the Boards to appeal to the courts to restrict certain actions, if it feels that it is likely to cause harm to water resources in an area. The court has the power to decide for or against such an application.
  • Under the Chapter for penalties, various penalties are described pertaining to the contravention of provisions of different Sections of this Act. For example, under Section 41, Whoever fails to comply with any order issued under clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 32 or any direction issued by a court under sub-section (2) of section 33 or any direction issued under section 33A shall, in respect of each such failure and on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year and six months but which may extend to six years and with fine, and in case the failure continues, with an additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure continues after the conviction for the first such failure.
  • Section 51 and Section 52: Under these Sections, the Act sets up the Central Water Laboratory and State Water Laboratory respectively.
  • Section 58: Bar of Jurisdiction
    This bars the civil courts any jurisdiction in entertaining matters pertaining to appeals under this Act, by stating that “No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any matter which an appellate authority constituted under this Act is empowered by or under this Act to determine, and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken or to be taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act.” This effectively means that no person working to uphold this Act can be charged with offenses under the Act.

Notably missing from this Act is any provision to prevent pollution of groundwater resources. Further, non-point sources of water pollution from agriculture and discharge waterwater from municipal sources are also not considered yet (both of which have become major sources of pollution today).


Further reading:

  1. https://hspcb.gov.in/Water%20Act,%201974%20Relevant%20provisions.pdf
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