The central legislation in the control of water pollution in India is the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (the “Water Act”). The Water Act was enacted for the prevention and control of water pollution and prohibits the discharge of pollutants into the water system in excess of standards. It also provides for setting up Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the central government and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) for the state governments. The Water Act is in effect the first environmental regulation in India and was enacted before the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was published. In 1988, the Water Act was amended to bring its provisions in line with the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The Constitution of India gives the states the power to manage water and, as a rule, no water laws can be enacted at the national level. Therefore, the basic tasks of the central government are limited to the formulation of a comprehensive plan for water resources management and coordination among the states. However, the Water Act was enacted under Article 252 of the Constitution as an exceptional national law on water. In 1975, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1975 was enacted as a sub-regulation of the Water Act. The Rules set out payment, authority, budget and functions of CPCB in detail.

Another major water law is the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 (the “Water Tax Act”). The Water Tax Act governs the taxation of water consumed by industrial entities and municipalities and the collection thereof. Under the Water Tax Act, industrial entities and local governments must install water meters and pay taxes based on the amount of water used. In 1978, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules, 1978 was enacted as a sub-regulation.

No national regulations have been enacted for the management of groundwater resources, and some states and the Union Territory have enacted their own regulations. On the other hand, in 1970, the central government enacted the “Model Bill to Regulate and Control the Development and Management of Groundwater” as a model for states and the Union Territory to enact groundwater regulations. The Model Bill was amended in 1992, 1996 and 2005. The Model Bill provides for the establishment of Ground Water Authority by the state governments and also recommends introducing registration system of a well and a permit system for ground water extraction.

Effluent standards for wastewater discharged from industrial facilities are specified in the Environmental (Protection) Rules, 1986.