Discharge of untreated industrial effluents into water bodies

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

Even after five decades of enacting a law, India is nowhere close to preventing industries from dumping untreated toxic effluents in the open.


  • India enacted the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act in 1974, which criminalises polluting water bodies
  • In 1986, the country developed the Environmental (Protection) Act, which provides the standards for effluent discharge. 
  • Since then, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has issued several guidelines periodically to update the mechanisms for arresting water pollution.
    • In 2014, CPCB made it mandatory for all grossly polluting industries and common effluent treatment plants to install CEQMS (continuous effluent quality monitoring system). 
  • In 2017, the Supreme Court ordered that the CEQMS data must be available online within six months to increase transparency in pollution reporting and improve industry compliance.

Key highlights of the 3rd Quarterly Report of the Central Monitoring Committee: 

  • It was set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to check river pollution.
  • The report has both the generation and treatment data for 13 states and Union Territories (UTs) and only generation data for another 10 states and UTs. 
    • No data is available for six states - Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Goa, and Manipur. 
  • State pollution control boards (SPCBs) of large states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh are not furnishing information. 
  • The 13 states with shared data related to effluent generation and treatment capacity should also have shared information on effluent discharge quality.

Legislative frameworks:

  • CPCB, SPCBs, and pollution control committees (PCCs) for Union Territories are legally obligated to disseminate consolidated information on wastewater generation, treatment and disposal under Section 16 (f) of the Water Act. 
    • It reads: CPCB must “collect, compile and publish technical and statistical data relating to water pollution” and “prepare manuals, codes or guides relating to treatment and disposal of sewage and trade effluents and disseminate information connected therewith”. 
  • All industries need to get consent from SPCBs/PCCs to establish and operate units, and to get this consent; they need to furnish their effluent details. 
    • The consent to operate also needs to be revised every three years. 
    • Besides, SPCBs/PCCs need to carry out inspections regularly: 
      • Quarterly for grossly polluting industries (such as sugar and textile, bleaching and dyeing industries), 
      • Bi-yearly for high-polluting red category industries (such as lead acid battery and automobile manufacturers) 
      • Annually for orange category industries.


  • The functioning of the statutory regulators and remedial action against violations of waste management systems are seriously deficient.
  • Gross violations can also be seen in the continuous effluent quality monitoring system (CEQMS) used for real-time water pollution monitoring.
  • Even the data from the flow metre, a sensor that monitors the amount of treated effluent leaving the industry, has been missing in most industries.
  • Staff crunch is a chronic problem across pollution control boards, directly impacting their ability to penalise defaulting industries.
    • 33% of the 577 sanctioned posts in the CPCB are vacant. 
    • In SPCBs, over 49% of the 11,103 sanctioned posts are vacant. 
    • Even PCCs must hire people for 49 per cent of the 853 sanctioned posts. 
  • The Act does not explicitly say that data should be made public. As a result, the effluent data is available only through the submissions made in court orders and Parliament questions.
  • Until the country arrests the untreated discharge of industrial effluent, it will not be able to clean its rivers and water bodies.

Recommendations to tackle this issue:

India already has the basic legal framework and processes in place to achieve the target. What is now required are certain changes in how they are implemented. Hence here are some recommendations by experts at CSE:

  • Need actionable data: 
    • India needs consolidated figures on effluent generation, treatment and discharge quality. 
    • Raw data is already available with SPCBs/PCCs. Now, the state boards need to inventorize the data so that it can be used for better policy making
    • Industries should be graded as per their water consumption and effluent discharge, and then placed on a map to indicate their location. 
      • This will bring transparency to the entire process.
  • Localised insights: 
    • India has a large number of small - and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) that play a major role in the country’s GDP. 
    • In consultation with SPCBs/PCCs, state governments should map suitable locations for such industries. 
      • The scattered distribution of such industries makes monitoring and inspection difficult, prompting them to dump effluents illegally.
  • Widen net: 
    • SPCBs/PCCs can involve various stakeholders in developing a comprehensive programme to prevent, control, and abate water pollution and improve compliance. 
    • Unfortunately, SPCBs/PCCs are only obsessed with licensing of industry and source inspection, neglecting their advisory role as envisaged under the Water Act, 1974.
  • Improve compliance: 
    • The poor performance and non-compliance of common effluent treatment plants (CETP) have been recurring problems that have been highlighted in several NGT cases. 
    • The 2021 Central Monitoring Committee report observes that 30% of the CETPS are non-compliant. 
    • Part of the problem lies in the heterogeneous characteristics of effluent received by CETP, which do not match the designed characteristics of CETP. 
    • Every industry should adopt an effluent pre-treatment facility before discharging the wastewater into CETP to ensure homogeneity and prevent shock loads.


Hence, preventing industries from dumping untreated toxic effluents in the open is the need of the hour to save our environment.Such effluent discharges not only pollute water but also affect the marine ecosystem. Government should prioritise and impose fines on such industries dumping untreated toxic effluents.

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