Public nuisance court case in 1950 at Sambalpur on water pollution in River Mahanadi by
Dr Shraddhakar Supkar
A case was filed on 3rd April, 1950 in Sambalpur Munsif Court. This is the first- ever court case on water pollution in India, also in the world. The petitioners were the representatives living on the bank of river IB. And the authority of Orient Paper Mill was the defendant. Hon’ble Munsif directed the authority not to discharge highly polluted wastes of the paper mill into the river water. The mill authority preferred an appeal in the court of the sub-judge. The sub-judge dismissed the appeal. Again the owner filed an appeal before the Hon’ble High Court. During the pendency of the appeal, the then Government of Odisha enacted The Odisha River Pollution Act 1953. This act is the first-ever act in India on water pollution. As per the act, the court could not decide any such matter related to the river water pollution. It would be only judged by a board nominated by the Government. There was no option left for the Odisha High Court. The appeal was dismissed. As per the order of the lower court, things could not be carried out. At present, petitioners are not there, nor the defendants. OPM has closed down forever.
The Orient Paper mill was established in 1940. After the establishment of the OPM, about 50000 villagers living on the river side could not use the polluted river water. The polluted and poisonous particles released from the mill were released to the IB river directly. The representatives of the villagers requested the mill authority not to release the polluted wastes directly into the river. But the authority did not pay heed to the request of the villagers rather they went on expanding the mill. Gradually, pollution grew more and more. The then Odisha government was in support of the mill owner and that was the reason the mill authority ignored the public interest and their complaints.
Discussion started in the floor of the Odisha Legislative Assembly regarding the illegal action (Ib water pollution) of the paper mill. On 10th march 1949, the then minister in charge, while answering to the question of Shraddhakar Supkar said, ‘The government. feels that the river water is being polluted because of the discharge of polluted waste materials from the paper mill. It is no more suitable for drinking and bathing purpose.’ The minister also intimated that government has provided 23 acres of land to the mill authority for the purpose of setting up a water filtration plant. The MLAs Shraddhakar Supkar, Dinabandhu Sahu, Laxminarayan Mishra, Sarangdhar Das, Baibhav Charan Mohanty, Uma Charan Pattnaik took part in the said discussion in the assembly. Irespective of party politics, most of the MLAs demanded that the government should take a bold step towards the solution of Ib water pollution.
The Revenue Divisional Commissioner B.Shivaraman on 2nd Feb 1950 visited the site . After his visit, he sent his report directly to the chief minister. He directed the Director of Public Health and Director of Industries to submit a final report after a thorough investigation on this matter. The Revenue Commissioner in his report had mentioned, ‘The mill authority should take care that the polluted wastes of the mill should not mix with the river water directly. Experts’ opinion is urgently needed for immediate solution.’ The Director of Industries M.L. Narasinghya and a professor of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Subramanian submitted their investigation reports on the mater. Both the experts remarked that the waste unhygienic materials released from the mill was polluting the Ib river water. They advised not to release those waste materials directly into the river. They should make a water filtration plant.
Though the state government provided 23 acres of land at a much lower price to the paper mill in 1947, the mill authority did not take any initiative towards the establishment of the filtration plant. During that period many well known persons, social workers, doctors, news reporters of Sambalpur visited the site. They protested against the pollution of river water. It was discussed in the legislative assembly. Many of the members of the legislative assembly demanded some highly effective measures. But the government became a silent observer only.
On 13th march 1950 , Shraddhakar Supkar sent an application to the Advocate General of Odisha with a prayer requesting him that he may be allowed to file a case regarding the Ib water pollution in the court of the Munsif at Sambalpur for public nuisance. On 14th march 1950, the Advocate General granted his application with a written permission for the same. It was essential to take permission at that time.
On 3rd April 1950, Shraddhakar Supkar filed a petition on the Ib water pollution in the Munsif court. In his petition he requested to grant a stay order against the release of waste materials to river Ib. Three more persons were there as petitioners. They were the gauntias of Mangalpur, Purushottam Hota, Navin Chandra Pandey of Tihura and Arjun Panda of Saplahara. The Hon’ble Munsif Khageswar Mohanty passed an interim stay order that OPM cannot release its waste matter in the river Ib until further order. OPM prayed for the withdrawal of the stay order granted by the court. The court did not do so.
On 19th June 1950, Shradhakar Supkar complained in the Munsif Court that the mill authority was disobeying the order of the court. Bharat Chandra Naik and Bhagwan Mishra requested that strict action should be taken against OPM for the contempt of the court order. In this case, people like Dr.Bimbadhar Pujhari, Dr.Bhabani Shankar Padhi, Parameswar Panda, Brundaban Nanda, Chintamani Hota, Ramadhin Dubey, Karunakar Panda, Brundaban Pujhari and Brajmohan Behera produced their evidence in favour of the petitioners of this water pollution issue. From the beginning till the end, Bodharam Dubey was helping them out consistently.
On March 31st1952, Hon’ble Munsif made the interim stay order permanent. He ordered the defendant to deposit Rs 200/- as cost of the proceeding. The mill authority filed an appeal in the sub judge court against the order of the learned Munsif. On October 6, 1952 the sub judge dismissed the appeal and ordered to deposit Rs 100/- as the cost of the proceedings. Again the mill authorities filed an appeal in the High Court against the (3) order of the sub judge. During the pendency of the appeal government passed the Odisha River Pollution Act in 1953 in the Odisha legislative assembly. The bill contained that court cannot decide any case related to river water pollution. A board would be formed consisting of the members nominated by the government. There would be four government and four non-government members in the board and the board would decide the case.
Shraddhakar Supkar, the then leader of opposition protested again in the house. Then the bill was sent to the select committee. Fakir Charan Das, the member of the select committee and the legislators gave their resignation from the committee alleging that the bill was against public welfare and was meant for the interest of a particular mill owner.
On 30th October 1953, the OPM authority filed an appeal in the Hon’ble High Court. As the Odisha pollution Act was passed the high court dismissed the appeal on 20th November 1953. As per the Act, the court cannot decide on any dispute on the matter of river water pollution.
After filing the petition relating to the pollution of Ib water, the Odisha government passed the bill for river water pollution for the first time. There is no doubt that the law was fabricated to keep the selfish interest of the defendant, though the government admitted that IB river water was getting polluted by the affluent discharged by the said industry. Had the government wished, the problem of pollution could have been solved. But the government did not want to solve the issue of water pollution. The petitioners are no longer there, nor are the defendants. OPM have closed down forever for some unknown reason. The first ever court case on water pollution in India by Shraddhakar Supkar Ex MP has gone unnoticed into history.