Salt Miners v. Director, Industries and Mineral Development

1994 SCMR 2061
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Residents and mineworkers of Khewra filed a petition under Article 184(3) of the Pakistani Constitution alleging that a lease had been improperly granted to a mining company within a reserved water catchment area, thus endangering the potability of the resident’s water supply which could be contaminated by poisonous water seeping from the mine.

A government-constituted fact-finding committee had determined that any sub-surface and underground mining activity in the contested area posed a threat to the locality’s water reservoir. The committee had also noted past-mining incidents in terrain similar to the terrain at question, wherein the mining activity had adversely affected the water source.

The respondent contended that it had properly been granted its lease which was outside the alleged catchment area, that its mining activities could not affect the locality’s natural spring or reservoir, that its mining operation contributed greatly to the economy of the area, and that its operations were overseen by various government authorities.

The Court reviewed the history of the reserved water catchment area, noting that the present water catchment area was nearly six or seven times smaller than the original area, even though the population and mining leases in the area had increased. The Court determined that the mining operations posed a serious danger of contamination of the water supply.

Ultimately, the Court held that “the right to have water free from pollution and contamination is [a] right to life itself.” Quoting from prior decisions, the Court noted that the Pakistani Constitution guaranteed the right to life. Thus, considering that the location and water management system of the mine did threaten the potability of the locality’s water supply, the Court ordered certain protective measures to be immediately taken.

“However, the irony of situation is that with the passage of time, population has grown and number of mining leases in the catchment areas has increased, but the water source remains the same and water catchment area has been reduced. The mining operations in this area pose serious danger of cracks, punctures and leakage in the rocks and ravines which may lead to contamination or drying up of the springs. These are well-known and acknowledged dangers to the water source and have been mentioned in the report submitted by the Committee. In such a situation when the water catchment area seems to have been reduced to its minimum, the mining activities have completely surrounded the water catchment area and are extending nearer to the source spring, it seems necessary to immediately take measures to protect the water sources and springs. It is fortunate that so far no major mishap has occurred, but the more mining activities increase and the catchment area is reduced, the danger of bursting, leaking and contamination also increases. In this situation, if the petitioners complain, are they not justified to seek protection of their right to have clean water free from contamination and pollution. Article 9 of the Constitution provides that "no person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law". The word 'life' has to be given an extended meaning and cannot be restricted to vegetative life or mere animal existence.

In hilly areas where access to water is scarce, difficult or limited, the right to have water free from pollution and contamination is x right to life itself. This does not mean that persons residing in other parts of the country where water is available in abundance do not have such right. The right to have unpolluted water is the right of every person wherever he lives.” Section 4.

“The petitioners' demand here is the barest minimum. Water has been considered source of life in this world. Without water there can be no life. History bears testimony that due to famine and scarcity of water, civilizations have vanished, 10 green lands have turned into deserts and arid zones completely destroying the life not only of human being, but animal life as well. Therefore, water, which is necessary for existence of life, if polluted, or contaminated, will cause serious threat to human existence. In such a situation, persons exposed to such danger are entitled to claim that their fundamental right of life guaranteed to them by the Constitution has been violated and there is a case for enforcement of fundamental rights by giving directions 'or passing any orders to restrain the parties and authorities from committing such violation or to perform their statutory duties. In our view the petition is maintainable.” Section 4.