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Subhash Kumar vs State Of Bihar Case Brief

Subhash Kumar vs State Of Bihar And Ors on 9 January, 1991,Case Summary

Facts of the Case

Subhash Kumar, the petitioner filed a writ petition by way of public interest litigation and alleged that the respondents, West Bokaro Collieries and Tata Iron and Steel Company 

(TISCO), had polluted the river Bokaro by disposing off the surplus waste from their washeries in the form of sludge or slurry, rendering the river’s water unfit for drinking and irrigation. Moreover, this waste gets deposited on the beds of the river and that includes Plot No. 170, which is the petitioner’s land. 

The petitioner requested the Court to instruct the respondents to take urgent measures to prevent river pollution and to initiate legal action against TISCO under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974. The petitioner further sought interim relief from this Court, claiming that he be allowed to collect sludge/slurry pouring from the respondents’ washeries.

Bihar State Pollution Board has informed the Court that it has already instructed the Bokaro Collieries to take immediate and effective steps to improve the quality of the effluent being discharged into the river. Further, TISCO has been granted permission to continue discharging waste into the river but only in accordance with Sections 24 and 25 of the Act.


The issues dealt with in this case are twofold;

  1. Whether the petitioner was empowered to file a plea via a Public Interest Litigation? and;
  2. Whether the Bokaro river has been contaminated due to the discharge of slurry from the respondent’s washeries?

Arguments advanced

The Petitioner claims that excess waste released in the form of sludge/slurry as effluent from washeries in the river leaves the carboniferous product on the soil, affecting the fertility of the land. He further claimed that the water going to remote locations is neither fit for drinking nor for irrigation purposes, and that Tata Iron & Steel Co.’s continual release of sludge poses a significant risk to the health of people who may consume water from this polluted river. It has further been argued by the petitioner that despite repeated requests and demands, the State of Bihar has taken no action against the pollution caused by the respondent’s washeries and is instead providing them with royalty on lease payments. Thus, the petitioner pleaded the Court to instruct the State of Bihar, Bihar Pollution Control Board and the respondents to take immediate steps to curb the pollution of the river Bokaro. 

On the other hand, the counsel for the Respondents has contended that Bihar Pollution Control Board have already undertaken every necessary step possible in order to prevent pollution. The Board has given the Tata Iron & Steel Co. permission to discharge effluents from its outlets under Sections 25 and 26 of the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act of 1974. An analysis and thorough monitoring of the river was conducted by the Board before giving TISCO permission to discharge waste into the Bokaro river to ensure that such discharge of effluents would not contaminate the river. The Respondents further claimed that, in order to prevent contamination in the Bokaro River, the Board had directed the Director of Collieries to take the required procedures to improve the river’s condition. Respondents further contested that four ponds were built to improve the storage capacity of the effluents. The Pollution Board monitored the wastewater; and on June 20, 1988, the Board carried out an inspection of the settling tanks for the treatment of effluent from the washeries. During the inspection, it was discovered that the four settling tanks built were filled and that there was no discharge from the effluents with the exception of minor seepage from the embankment. 

It was also said that no effluent flow was discovered in the Bokaro River, and thus there was no concern of river contamination, and that the fertility of the soil was not harmed. The respondents deny the claims in the petition and argue that corrective actions have been taken to prevent sludge discharge from washeries into the Bokaro River. The Respondents further said that the Bokaro River remains dry for 9 months, so no pollution from slurry discharge can occur; the slurry that had settled in the pond was considered for sale since the carboniferous elements contained in the slurry are highly significant and valuable for purposes of fuel. The Company ensured that no sludge escaped from the pond since it is extremely valuable for fuel generation. Because the slurry has a high market value, the firm cannot afford to squander it in the river, and the appropriate precautions have been made by the company to ensure that no slurry escapes in the pond. The Respondents further asserted that the Company followed the directives outlined in the State Pollution Control Board Act of 1974. 


The Supreme Court ruled that Article 32 of the Indian Constitution is intended for the protection of a citizen’s fundamental rights; it is an exceptional process to protect a citizen’s rights. The right to life is a basic right protected by Article 21 of the Constitution that gives a person the right to live in clean water and air. A person cannot use Public Interest Litigation to redress a personal grievance. The current petition is not maintainable since it was not brought in the public interest and instead, was the consequence of a personal grudge; thus, the plea was dismissed and the petitioner was ordered to pay Rs. 5,000 in costs to the respondents.


The term “public interest litigation” was adopted from American law, where it was intended to offer legal representation to previously unrepresented groups such as the poor, racial minorities, unorganised consumers, individuals concerned about environmental concerns, and so on.

Public Interest Lawsuit (PIL) refers to litigation brought in a court of law to defend “Public Interest” issues such as pollution, terrorism, road safety, construction risks, and so on. Any problem affecting the general public’s interest can be resolved by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.

In S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, Justice PN Bhagwati played a big role in determining that “any member of the public or social action group acting in good faith” can seek redress from the High Courts (under Article 226) or the Supreme Court (under Article 32) for violations of legal or constitutional rights of persons who are unable to approach the Court due to social, economic, or other disabilities.

With this decision, PIL became a powerful tool for enforcing “public responsibilities” if executive action or misdeed resulted in public damage. As a result, any Indian citizen, consumer organisation, or social action group can now approach the country’s highest court for legal redress in any matter where the general public’s or a part of the public’s interests are at jeopardy.

Justice Bhagwati worked tirelessly to ensure that the idea of PILs was adequately articulated. He did not stress on procedural formalities and even regarded regular letters from concerned citizens as writ petitions.

PILs are widely regarded as the most effective and widely used judicial tool for environmental protection due to their numerous benefits, which include, but are not limited to, quick results, low court fees, lax procedural rules, and a wide range of investigative techniques available to courts, such as special committees.

Analysis of Subhash Kumar vs State Of Bihar

Looking at the facts of the case and the arguments presented by both sides, it is evident that the petitioner did not have a good cause of action and no good reason to contend that the respondents’ washeries were polluting the Bokaro river. Instead, the Bench agreed with the claims made by the Respondents while observing that that the Bihar State Pollution Board had taken effective measures to curb and prevent pollution. Moreover, according to the counter-affidavits submitted on behalf of Respondents, the petitioner has been purchasing slurry from Respondents for several years, and he requested more slurry as time passed, but the respondent firm refused to accept his request. Because the Petitioner was a powerful businessman with a coal trading licence, he attempted to put pressure on the Respondents to supply him with more slurry; when the Respondents refused, he began harassing them. The Petitioner filed several cases before the Patna High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution to get permission to collect slurry from raiyati property. The court did not contemplate digging into further detail since the current petition was not submitted in the public interest but in self-interest, and thus a public interest litigation was not maintainable. 


A person cannot use Public Interest Litigation to redress a personal grievance. The current petition is unconstitutional since it was not submitted in the public interest and was the product of a personal vendetta.

This case brief has been written by Deepanshita Singh, from Symbiosis Law School.


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