Siromani Mittasala v. President, Brindavanam Colony

2002 (1) ALD 136; 2002 (2) ALT 356
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Brindavan Colony was draining untreated sewage into the municipal underground pipeline and the Papireddy tank, which tank supplied water to the residents of Kavali. The Kavali municipality had failed to provide a proper drainage system, resulting in polluted water and the outbreak of mosquito-born epidemics. There was a nearby water supply scheme being built which, once completed, would supply clean water to Kavali.

The Kavali municipality claimed that it was facing a financial crunch, was unable to pay salaries and therefore was unable to undertake the protective water supply scheme.

Court noted that the local authority is entrusted with town planning and the health of the people and that the administration of natural resources vest with the municipal administration in order to guarantee the well-being of the people. The court then discussed the relevant environmental common law principals and acts, noting the principles which granted an easement of use and enjoyment over water streams to all owners, prevented discharge of sewage water into any surface water resources and prevented pollution, generally.  The court also discussed the relevant provisions of the Municipalities Act, which emphasized that it was the duty of the municipality to supply water fit for human consumption.

The court held that the municipality must adhere to the Water Act, Air Act, and the Environmental Act, with respect to ensuring compliance with the minimum standards set forth for drainage and sewage water, as well as adhering to the Municipalities Act. The court further held that financial constrains do no provide acceptable justification for a municipal body’s inability to discharge its functions.

 

Noting that each citizen is entitled to pollution free air and water under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the court held that no person, including the municipality, could deprive such citizen of such basic right via its action or inaction.

The court ordered that (a) the state government constitute a committee to prepare necessary steps for the provision and monitoring of safe drinking water to the residents of Kavali; (c) the municipality take immediate steps to prevent the flow of sewage into the Papireddy tank; (c) the municipality take immediate action against any person letting out sewage and drainage into public places and (d) the Government of A.P. issue necessary instructions to all municipalities and municipal corporations to initiate necessary steps for construction of adequate sewage treatment plants in order to ensure clean drinking water for all.

“42. Every citizen has right and is entitled to pollution free air and water under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. No Municipality and no person can deprive the citizen of such basic human right by reason of its activity or inaction. It would be common knowledge that pollution of drinking water with sewage and sullage is dangerous to health and more dangerous to the health of the children as well. No Municipality has a right to allow sewage water into drinking surface water resources and no such Municipality can be heard that they have no funds. . . . A responsible municipal counsel constituted for the precise purpose of preserving public health and providing better finances cannot run away from its principal duty by pleading financial inability. Decency and dignity are non-negotiable facets of human rights and are a first charge on local self-governing bodies. Similarly, providing drainage systems – not pompous and attractive, but in working condition and sufficient to meet the needs of the people—cannot be evaded if the municipality is to Justify its existence.”

“43. The Statutory setting being thus plain, the municipality cannot extricate itself from its responsibility. Its plea is not that the facts are wrong but that the law is not right because the municipal funds being insufficient it cannot carry out the duties under Section 123 of the Act. This ‘alibi’ made us issue notice to the State which is now represented by counsel, Shri Gambhir, before us. The plea of the municipality that notwithstanding the public nuisance financial inability validly exonerates it from statutory liability has no juridical basis….Otherwise, a profligate statutory body or pachydermic governmental agency may legally defy duties under the law by urging in self-defence a self-created bankruptcy or perverted expenditure budget. That cannot be.”

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