Supreme court of India

Name of the caseSubhash Kumar v. state of Bihar & others
CitationAI 1991 SC 420
Date of case09 January, 1991
PetitionerSubhash Kumar
RespondentState of Bihar & others
Bench/judgesK. N. Singh N. D. Ojha
Statues/ constitutionWater (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974: Sections 17, 24, 25 and 26. Article 226 and 32 of the constitution,1950


Public interest litigation(PIL) can be understand as: “when an act is done with an intention to protect or benefit of the public” which means to protect the interests of the citizens at large. It can be filed in any court as stated in Article 226 and 32 of the Constitution of India and by any individual body in public interested and especially for the person who fails to approach the Court. In this case study we will further analysed that how the court determined whether the endangerment of quality of life of a citizen can be constitutionally challenged under article 32. Also, the court considered the wider interpretation of article 21, which would provide a healthy environment to citizens.


Subhash Kumar, the petitioner, filed a PIL before the Supreme Court for the prevention of pollution of the water of Bokaro river, caused by the discharge of slurry from the plants of Tata Iron & Steel Co. The petitioner alleged that the respondents failed in maintaining the wholesome of water and abide Section 24 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1978, which prohibits the discharge of poisonous or polluting matter into the river. The State Pollution Control Board was constituted for the implementation of the functions provided in Section 17 of the said Act, the Board is advised to inspect the trade effluents and plants for the treatment of sewage and to review data and specifications for the treatment of water. Section 24 of the said act constituted that no person should knowingly cause or authorize any poisonous or polluting matter in the river.

The Petitioner (Subhash Kumar) asserted that the Tata Iron and Steel Co. carried mining operations in the town of Jamshedpur which are also known as West Bokaro Collieries. It was alleged that these mining plants discharge their waste in the form of slurry which get deposited on the bed of the river and start settling down on the land including plot n0. 170 which is petitioner’s land. He included that the slurry gets absorbed on the agricultural land leaving a fine film of carboniferous also this discharge from the mining plant pollutes the water which is then used as irrigation purpose or drinking by humans/animals. Despite several processes The State Pollution Control Board failed to take required actions against the company and the State of Bihar as it is granting a lease on the payment of royalty for collection of slurry to various persons.

He claimed the relief for the issue directing the defendants to take immediate actions prohibiting the pollution of the Bokaro river water from the discharge of slurry into the Bokaro river and to take further action under provisions of the Act against the Tata Iron & Steel Co. However, counter-affidavits were filed by the defendants which argued that the petitioner has filed the concerned PIL to fulfil his personal interests and not to champion the rights of the public being affected at large. They included that the petitioner had been purchasing slurry from the Tata company since several years and when the company refused to further provide him with it, he went on to file several suits at district and State level.

 As petitioner’s concerns weren’t heeded in the lower courts, he further moved to the supreme court by filing the aforesaid allegations in the form of a PIL.


  • Whether the PIL is filled in public interest or for personal issues?
  • Whether the river Bokaro is truly polluted by the discharge of the slurry from defendant’s mining plant?


Subhash Kumar, the petitioner, argued that the water of the river Bokaro is getting polluted by the discharge of the waste in the form of slurry from the washers of Tata Iron & Steel Co. limited. He further alleged that the water flowing to distant places is neither fit for drinking nor for irrigation purposes and the continuous discharge of sludge poses a heavy amount of risks to the health of people. It has also asserted that after making continuous requests no actions have been taken by the State of Bihar and even is granting royalty on payment of leases. In his plea he has claimed relief for the issue of direction by directing the defendants including state of Bihar and Bihar Pollution Control Board.


Defendants argued that, The Tata Iron & Steel Co. has been granted sanction from the Board for discharging effluents from their outlets under Sections 25 and 26 of the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974. Before granting the discharge of the effluents to the Bokaro River, the Bihar Pollution Control Board has studied and monitored all the facts that the effluents generated from the washers from the mining plants did not pollute the river. It was said by the respondents that to prevent the pollution in the Bokaro River, the Board issued direction to the Director of the Collieries to take necessary steps for improving the quality of the river. It was further asserted by the respondents that four ponds were constructed to increase the storing capacity of the effluents.

They further argued that no discharge of slurries was found in the river and stated no question for pollution of the river and hence the fertility of the land was also not affected. They also mentioned a fact that Bokaro river used to remain dry for 9 months, the slurry used to settle down in the pond was considered for sale as the carboniferous materials found in the slurry are very important and valuable for the purpose of fuel. It was made sure by the Company that no slurry escaped from the pond as it is highly valuable of fuel generation. Since the slurry has a high market value the company cannot afford to let it go waste in the river and for the same necessary steps has been taken by the Company that no slurry escapes in the pond.


  • Article 32 of the Indian constitution, 1950:

Under article 32, parliament of India can invade by law empowered by any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court to seek justice when they feel that their right has been ‘unduly deprived’. Therefore, we can say that an assured right is guaranteed to individuals for enforcement of fundamental rights by this article as the law provides the right to an individual to directly approach the Supreme Court without following a lengthier process of moving to the lower courts.

  • Water prevention and control of pollution act, 1974: this act is applicable to the states of Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat, Haryana, Tripura, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Kerala, and the union territories. This act was introduced to prevent and control water pollution and to restore and maintain the wholesomeness of water for the establishment. The Act also confers some powers to the established bodies such as the central board and the state board to control pollution of the water bodies.
  • Article 226 of the Indian Constitution,1950:

Under this article, Power of High Courts to issue any person or authority, including in appropriate case any Government, directions, orders or writs, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for “any other purpose.”


Court found that the Board had indeed taken effective steps to prevent the discharge of waste from the factories into the river, and thus dismissed the petition filled by the petitioner under public interests. Furthermore, it held that a person invoking the jurisdiction of this Court under article 32 must approach this Court for the vindication of the fundamental rights of affected persons and not for the purpose of petitioners of his personal grudge or enmity. The court assumed its duty to discourage such petitions and to ensure that the course of justice is not obstructed or polluted by unscrupulous litigants by invoking the extraordinary jurisdiction of this Court for personal matters under the garb of the public interest litigation..  Also the bench found that effective steps were taken by State Pollution Control Board to check pollution,

As the Petitioner was an influential businessman and has obtained a license for coal trading, he tried to put pressure on the Respondents to supply him with more quantity of slurry, when the Respondents denied him he started harassing the respondents. Several proceedings were initiated by the Petitioner before the Patna High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution for permitting him to collect slurry from raiyati land. Considering all the facts the Court dismissed the present petition, hence directed the Petitioner to pay 5,000/- rupees to the Respondents.


By this case study we can surely conclude that the petitioner flied this case due to his personal grudges and issues under the title of public interest. However, the interpretations by the Supreme Court over the years has become the basis of the environmental jurisprudence, which have served the masses; as right to life is a fundamental right provided under article 21 of the Constitution and guarantees a pollution free environment. One of the benefits of our Constitution is that it neither confines an individual from upholding his essential rights, nor it gives full opportunity to an individual in such a way, that he endeavours or damages such rights himself or against the general public. In the present case the Court did not consider delving into greater detail as the present petition was not filed in the public interest instead it has been made in self-interest.


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