New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India has said that protection of natural lakes and ponds honours the most basic fundamental right — the right to life that is guaranteed to all Indian citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. As such, the government is duty-bound to preserve these natural waterbodies, to ensure its citizens the right to water and to a decent standard of living.
On August 17, hearing a case involving the building of a shopping centre on an abandoned village tank in Kerala, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices S B Sinha and Dalveer Bhandari said: “Natural water storage resources are not only required to be protected but also steps are required to be taken to restore the same if they have fallen into disuse.”
The petition filed before the court raised the concern that village ponds adjoining highways were being preyed upon by powerful builders who got considerable financial returns by filling up these waterbodies and constructing housing and shopping complexes over them.
However, the bench clarified that artificial tanks fall in a separate category and cannot be equated with natural waterbodies. Therefore, it did not grant relief to petitioner Susetha who challenged the decision of the Okkiam Thoraipakkam Panchayat Union to allow the construction of a shopping complex on an abandoned village tank.
The Kerala government and the village panchayat showed that the pond has no natural source of water and that the village, which already has five tanks, faced no water shortages.
The Supreme Court’s stand on the preservation of natural waterbodies complements the United Progressive Alliance government’s decision two years ago to undertake the recharging of abandoned waterbodies in villages and to help people adopt water-harvesting methods.
Protection of waterbodies, the bench said, is envisaged in view of the fact that the right to water, as also quality of life, is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court also noted that the government was duty-bound — under Articles 47 and 48A of the Constitution — to protect the environment as well as to improve the living standards of its citizens.