ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenges in Regulating Water Pollution in India

Standards, Monitoring, Enforcement and Accountability

With rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, the problem of water pollution in India has escalated dramatically over the last few decades. The regulatory apparatus, has, however, lagged behind. Major gaps in standard setting, including lack of standards for ambient water quality, poor monitoring and weak enforcement by the pollution control boards are the major proximate causes. Controlling water pollution will require a concerted effort to address these regulatory failures.


While air pollution attracts public attention every winter across northern India as visibility drops and respiratory difficulties rise, attention to water pollution is perhaps more episodic and localised with events like Bellandur lake in Bengaluru catching fire (Nath 2015) or fish deaths in the Ganga (Anonymous 2018). Nevertheless, such episodes have served to attract the attention of regulators (mainly the Central Pollution Control Board or CPCB), the judiciary (especially the National Green Tribunal or NGT) and sometimes political attention. Yet the situation on the ground (or in the water) seems to change little, with (for instance) more river stretches being reported as critically polluted than ever before (Koshy 2018).

India passed its first water pollution regulation law, known as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, back in 1974 and supplemented it with the Environment (Protection) Act in 1986. Since then, the context has changed dramatically: not only has the population more than doubled (now approximately 138 crore), but the urban population has more than tripled (now approximately 35%), the gross domestic product (GDP) has quadrupled, and the industrial sector has grown more than proportionately. Even as the quantity of pollutants generated has incre­ased dramatically, the nature of pollutants has also changed or diversified. In addition to domestic sewage and conventional industrial pollutants (such as salts), heavy metals, pesticides from agriculture and micro-pollutants from expan­ding household chemicals are a matter of concern (Riva et al 2019).

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Updated On : 26th Dec, 2021
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