India's Supreme Court Bans Delhi Industrial Water Pollution

By Subir Ghosh

NEW DELHI, India, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - The pollution clogged Yamuna River, looking more like a huge drain than a revered river, could regain some of its pure flow if the Supreme Court of India's latest orders are followed to the letter.

On Monday, the high court prohibited the discharge of untreated industrial effluents into the Yamuna in the states of Delhi and Haryana. Industries here are primarily responsible for the toxic condition of the river.

The court has also banned release of effluents into the drains that flow into the river.

In a country where all big rivers are holy, the Yamuna, the lifeline of the National Capital Region of Delhi, has become so clogged with poisonous waste that it stands in immediate danger of losing its holy status.


Jama Masjid, the great mosque of Old Delhi (Photo courtesy
A division of the Supreme Court passed the order on basis of a report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The court asked the Board to file a fresh report on the quality of water by March 1.

The CPCB report said that the Yamuna's water was not fit for drinking and contained pollutants in excess of the standards fixed for the lowest quality drinking water.

The court said that public health should be given top priority even at the cost of jobs. Many jobs will certainly be lost if the government is able to enforce the court's order.

Nearly 800 industrial units in Delhi alone stand in the danger of being asked to close up shop for polluting the Yamuna River directly or releasing toxics in the drains that flow into the river. These 800 are in addition to the 1,374 units which were served with closure notices earlier for similar pollution offenses.

Monday's court order also applies to the 372 units which were closed and later reopened by the Delhi government on a trial basis for two months. These industries were allowed to open earlier this month after they claimed to have installed effluent treatment plants.

The high court, in two separate orders in August and September last year, had ordered all polluting units to install effluent treatment plants. It also directed that no industrial effluents would be released into the river from November 1, 1999.

The Delhi government promptly sealed 1,374 units and had power supply to these units disconnected. Soon 372 of these manufacturing units claimed to have submitted proof of either having stopped polluting altogether or installed effluent treatment plants. They were allowed to reopen temporarily and asked to submit reports to the Delhi Pollution Control Board.

Though all activity is likely to center around effluent treatment plants, neither the Delhi government nor the Delhi Pollution Control Board laid down standards for the effluent treatment plants. With no strict guidelines, the 372 units that reopened had installed their effluent treatment plants according to their own standards.

The Supreme Court is taking steps to correct a serious water problem in Delhi. The water supply is not able to meet the current demand, which is higher than in India's other cities due to large population of embassy personal and tourists. Though the walled city area has the basic infrastructure, 25 percent of the households do not have direct municipal water.

Vast slums on the banks of the Yamuna dump raw, untreated sewage directly into the river which contaminates the water. The same water is then tapped for drinking at a later point in the course of the river.

Much more must be done before the Yamuna runs clean, but the Supreme Court has made a start.