The Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that the water does not belong to the villagers who use the same, rather it is the property of the State and no individual can claim the same.

A Division Bench comprising Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Virender Singh said, “At the outset, we may clear the air regarding the ownership of water sources. It is a misconception that water belongs to the villagers who use the same, whereas it is more than settled that water is the property of the State and no individual(s), whosoever has any right to claim this property even though situated within his personal property. … There cannot be any two opinions that natural resources are the assets of the nation and its citizens. It is the obligation of all concerned, including the Central and the State Governments, to conserve and not waste such valuable resources.”

The Bench referred to Articles 48A and 51A of the Constitution dealing with the duties of the State and its citizens to protect and improve the natural environment.

Senior Advocate Ajay Sharma and Advocate Ajay Thakur appeared for the petitioners while A.G. Anup Rattan, Sr. Addl. A.G. Y.W. Chauhan, and Addl. A.G. Ramakant Sharma appeared for the respondents.

In this case, the petitioners approached the High Court as they were aggrieved by the action of the respondents whereby a bandh (dam) was proposed to be built/constructed on Bagna nalla in Gram Panchayat, Bagi, Tehsil Shimla (Gramin). They alleged that almost 90-95% of inhabitants of the said Gram Panchayat would be affected by such construction and the very source of their livelihood would be snatched.

The High Court in view of the facts of the case noted, “In view of the constitutional provisions, the doctrine of public trust has become the law of the land. The said doctrine rests on the principle that certain resources like air, sea, water and forests are of such great importance to the people as a whole that it would be highly unjustifiable to make them a subject of private ownership.”

The Court further noted that the State holds all the water bodies in public trust for the welfare of this generation and all the succeeding generations and therefore protecting water bodies must be given as much weightage.

“… we find that the respondents have already taken adequate steps to safeguard their interests, because the project in question is being undertaken for the benefit of public at large by maintaining the necessary flow of water in the khud down stream for running of gharat and irrigation channels. That apart, the Gram Panchayat Dhamoon has already passed a resolution No. 11, dated 30.05.2015 and issued no objection certificate in consequences thereof for the construction of the project”, the Court asserted.

The Court said that only four people filed the petition which cannot be termed to be the voice of the people as the voice of the people would be best reflected if the local rural elected bodies like gram panchayat or gram sabha would come up before the Court.

“… the interests of the villagers represented by the petitioners have already been adequately safeguarded, as the over flowing water during rainy season is proposed to be stored and further used in summer season for drinking and irrigation purposes. The stored water would recharge the existing water sources in the surrounding areas, which will increase the water retaining capacity of soil and further held in increasing the agricultural yield of farmers”, said the Court.

The Court noted that the work has already been awarded to the contractors amounting to Rs. 635.71 lakhs and the respondent department has already incurred an amount of Rs. 176.47 lakhs on the project so far.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the plea.

Cause Title- Rajesh Kumar & Ors. v. State of H.P. & Ors.

Click here to read/download the Judgment