Water Management in India (Laws and reforms): AllYou Need to Know!

This article on “LAW RELATING TO WATER MANAGEMENT IN INDIA” is written by Manjeet, an intern at Legal Upanishad.


Initially, since childhood, we studied water and its importance. Starting from the water circle, how does rain happen? Even the human body comprises 97% of water. When calculating the amount of water on the earth’s surface, the division will always be 97% of the water in the oceans, i.e., saltwater. The remaining 3% is available for human consumption; 1.5% is stored in glaciers. So, technically, for the consumption of human beings, there is only around 1.5% of water. The question arises, can we create water? Chemically, it is H2O, i.e., combining 2 molecules of hydrogen and 1 molecule of oxygen. Though it is a natural resource, it can’t be created artificially.

So, the fact remains true that water, which is gifted naturally, is the only source of water. Other options for acquiring water through the creation of H2O, by the process of reverse osmosis, melting glaciers, etc., are not the most practically possible solutions to the problem of water scarcity. The simplest way to rescue yourself from the problem is to use water judiciously. In the context of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), water is “the stuff of life and a basic human right”. Article 21 of the constitution interprets the right to have clean water as a fundamental right.

The present article shares an overview of the existing framework and proposed reforms relating to the management of water and water laws in India.


In all industries where waste materials are water-soluble, water is used to dilute hazardous materials and dispose of the waste. Whenever a particular solute mixes with water, its harmfulness leaches into the water. This is where the concept of water pollution comes from. Water is used as the universal solvent.


Shore Nuisance Bombay and Kolaba Act, 1853. The act was intended to be implemented only in Bombay and Kolaba in order to facilitate the removal of nuisances and encroachments below the high-water mark in the islands.

  • Oriental Gas Company Limited, Act of 1857. The act focuses specifically on punishing or suing this company for water pollution.
  • The Sarais Act of 1867 According to the act, it is the responsibility of each Sarai owner to provide clean drinking water to their customers.
  • The Northern India Canal and Drainage Act, 1873. According to Section 70(3) of this act, anyone who obstructs the flow of water or a drainage system should be punished.


The necessity for prevention and conservation of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources is highlighted in the constitutional framework of India. Fundamental duty is cast on every citizen through article 51A of the Indian constitution. Earlier, people didn’t think that their behavior patterns and customs regarding water would end up facing extremely serious consequences resulting in water pollution.

This necessitates the passing of the Water Act. Pollution of streams, rivers, and other water bodies reduces the availability of potable water. The act follows a broad control scheme, with the Central Pollution Board serving as the nodal agency for effective implementation. The act forbids the release of pollutants into bodies of water beyond a given degree and penalizes them for disobedience. Furthermore, in 1977, the Water (prevention and control of pollution) Cess Act was enacted to provide for the charging and collection of a tax on water consumed by persons operating and carrying on certain types of industrial activities. The act was amended in 2003. 


Section 277 of the IPC explains that whoever voluntarily fouls the water of any public spring or river shall be punished with three months’ imprisonment, which can extend to a fine of five hundred rupees or both. The main reason for incorporating this section into criminal law is that the caste system in India used to be set up in such a way that there were designated wells for the upper caste and separate wells for the lower castes.

If someone raises their voice in opposition to this, then in return for punishment, people from upper castes foul the whole water, resulting in no access to water for lower caste people. This was a very barbaric practice in India. This was one of the methods of exacting vengeance from neighboring villages in the event of a conflict between them.

So, to curb these practices, a strict step was taken by the makers of the law, resulting in criminalizing the act of water fouling under IPC.


Through the 73rd constitutional amendment, it has been made mandatory to provide clean drinking water and sanitation by the local government. Various states took steps to follow this constitutional mandate.

The Sector Reform Project and Total Sanitation Campaign Programme by the Ministry for Rural Development of India and the World Bank-funded Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation projects helped the states to work accordingly. By facilitating financial and policy support, the central government combined the efforts of states.


A great deal of concern about both quality and sustainability is given by the Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP), The concept of sanitation has undergone a qualitative change over the past few years. The Central and state governments have collectively laid out more than Rs. 360 billion for the rural drinking water sector. Also, the government has planned to exercise about Rs. 280 billion in the period 2002–2007.

The partnership between the World Bank and the Government of India has achieved immense progress in enacting and reforming and implementing innovative strategies to improve the rural water supply and sanitation sector. The Central and State governments together come up with various schemes: 

  • Decentralization of local communities in rural areas. 
  • Building reforms for policymaking and institutions.                                  
  • Putting investments in rural infrastructure development programs.
  • Using NGOs and alternative service providers. 
  • Targeting the weaker section and vulnerable groups. 

The Ministry for Rural Development developed four fundamental principles for reformation, namely: awareness programs, transparency, community participation, and social auditing.


The Rivers Boards Act of 1956 empowers the state government to establish a River Advisory Board to resolve issues concerning interstate river cooperation.

  • The Merchant Shipping Act of 1970 addresses waste emitted by ships as well as coastal areas within a certain radius.
  • The Coastal Regulation, 1991, puts regulations on different activities, including construction works, and ensures protection of the backwaters and estuaries.


In November 2019, the Jal Shakti Ministry set up a committee to draught the National Water Policy (NWP). The policy ensures the limits to endlessly increasing water supply and proposes a shift towards demand management. The National Water Policy (NWP) considers water quality the most serious unaddressed issue in India today. It proposes that every water ministry, at the centre and in the states, include a water quality department.

The policy advocates the adoption of state-of-the-art, low-cost, low-energy, eco-sensitive technologies for sewage treatment.


Water is the second primary need after oxygen. On average, 1/3 of human consumption of water comes from groundwater, yet there are certain areas where up to 100% of water is obtained from groundwater. In many cities in India, the groundwater level is depleting.

The overexploitation of water for agricultural purposes is one of the main reasons behind the fast depletion of groundwater resources in India. Seeing the extent and pace of groundwater depletion, the MoEFCC has constituted an expert committee to recommend urgent measures and also prepare a detailed framework for the future.

The expert committee has recommended that groundwater use in agriculture should be regulated and also suggested that sewage water can be used in agriculture. As citizens, we do plantations; it can be an effective way to increase the groundwater table. The roots of the tree increase the water retention capacity of the soil.

Societal changes with the help of government policies and regulations could help in the recovery. The technique of rainwater harvesting should be made mandatory for every household.


The government has taken various initiatives for water conservation and its management and has enabled an ample number of laws relating to water. Practices such as rainwater harvesting, techniques of recycling and reuse of water, afforestation, etc. are being done by the public.

People’s perspectives toward this serious issue of water scarcity and water pollution need to be changed for the development of the water sector. People are well aware of the problem, but they are not ready to change their behavioral patterns and practices in day-to-day life. Securing nature and its natural resources is our duty.

There should not be a need for implementing regulations by authorities. People only know to use resources from nature, but they are not responsible enough to safeguard nature and its resources.