CSE welcomes court order on water

CSE welcomes Supreme Court notice to government on the ‘right to clean and safe drinking water’

New Delhi, August 25, 2003: Is clean drinking water a fundamental right of all Indians? The issue came to the fore with a public interest litigation that was filed suo moto in the Supreme Court (SC) today on behalf of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Chief Justice V N Khare served notices to three Union ministries in this regard. CSE Director Sunita Narain welcomed the action of the Court. Pointing to the fact that the Court had taken cognizance of the key issue – that of drinking water quality and availability – Narain reiterated her demand for “legally enforceable safe drinking water standards” for every Indian.

The genesis of this PIL lay in a letter written by Narain five months ago -- on February 5, 2003 -- to key members of the judiciary informing them about the findings of laboratory results on pesticide residues in bottled water and raising issues of groundwater and surface water contamination. Pointing out that the issue had “important and severe implications for public health in the country”, the letter explained how lax and inadequate norms had led to this scenario. “It is clear that we need urgent action,” says Narain in the letter.

The letter was turned into a PIL by Justice Dharmadhikari, who was one of its recipients; the Union of India was made the respondent. The SC issued notices to the Union ministries of Food and Civil Supplies, Health and Environment and Forests. The case will again come up for hearing after four weeks. Says Sunita Narain, “Even after 55 years of Independence, India does not have legal standards that would help to clearly define ‘clean’ and ‘potable’ water. Municipalities can supply water that is neither potable nor drinkable, but there’s precious little a citizen can do. Under the law, no institution can be ultimately held responsible for quality, because nobody has defined standards that can be legally enforced.”