[Prelims Spotlight] Pollution

National Environmental Legislation

  • Our constitution, originally, did not contain any direct provision regarding the protection of natural environment.
  • However, after the United Nations Conference on Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, Indian constitution was amended to include protection of the environment as a constitutional mandate.
  • Environment related legislation came very late in 1972 with Wild Life Protection Act 1971.
  • The forty second amendment Clause (g) to Article 51A of the Indian constitution made it a fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment.

Clause (g) to Article 51A of the Indian constitution states “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and have compassion for living creatures.”

  • There is a directive, given to the State as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy regarding the protection and improvement of the environment.

Article 48A states “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

  • The Department of Environment was established in India in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country. This later became the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 1985.
  • The Environment Protection Act of 1986 (EPA) came into force soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and is considered umbrella legislation as it fills many lacunae in the existing legislations.

Pollution Related Acts

  • Among all the components of the environment air and water are necessary to fulfill the basic survival needs of all organisms. So, to protect them from degradation the following acts have been passed.
  1. Water Acts
  2. Air Acts
  3. Environment Act
  • A few important legislations of each category with brief description are given below:

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and Amendment, 1988

  • The main objective of this act is to provide prevention and control of water pollution.

Some important provisions of this Act are given below:

  • The Act vests regulatory authority in State Pollution Control Boards to establish and enforce effluent standards for factories.
  • Central Pollution Control Board performs the same functions for Union Territories and formulate policies and coordinates activities of different State Boards.
  • The Act grants power to SPCB and CPCB to test equipment and to take the sample for the purpose of analysis.
  • Prior to its amendment in 1988, enforcement under the Act was achieved through criminal prosecutions initiated by the Boards.
  • The 1988 amendment act empowered SPCB and CPCB to close a defaulting industrial plant.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act of 1977

  • The Water Cess Act was passed to generate financial resources to meet expenses of the Central and State Pollution Boards.
  • The Act creates economic incentives for pollution control and requires local authorities and certain designated industries to pay a cess (tax) for water effluent discharge.
  • The Central Government, after deducting the expenses of collection, pays the central board and the states such sums, as it seems necessary.
  • To encourage capital investment in pollution control, the Act gives a polluter a 70% rebate of the applicable cess upon installing effluent treatment equipment.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 and amendment, 1987

  • To implement the decisions taken at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972, Parliament enacted the nationwide Air Act.
  • The main objectives of this Act are to improve the quality of air and to prevent, control and abate air pollution in the country.

Important provisions of this Act are given below:

  • The Air Act’s framework is similar to that of the Water Act of 1974.
  • The Air Act expanded the authority of the central and state boards established under the Water Act, to include air pollution control.
  • States not having water pollution boards were required to set up air pollution boards.
  • Under the Air Act, all industries operating within designated air pollution control areas must obtain a “consent” (permit) from the State Boards.
  • The states are required to prescribe emission standards for industry and automobiles after consulting the central board and noting its ambient air quality standards.
  • The Act grants power to SPCB and to test equipment and to take the sample for the purpose of analysis from any chimney, fly ash or dust or any other.
  • Prior to its amendment in 1988, enforcement under the Act was achieved through criminal prosecutions initiated by the Boards.
  • The 1988 amendment act empowered SPCB and CPCB to close a defaulting industrial plant.
  • Notably, the 1987 amendment introduced a citizen’s suit provision into the Air Act and extended the Act to include noise pollution.

Environment (Protection) Act of 1986

  • In the wake of the Bhopal tragedy, the government of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986.
  • The purpose of the Act is to implement the decisions of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment of 1972, in so far as they relate to the protection and improvement of the human environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and property.
  • The Act is an “umbrella” for legislations designed to provide a framework for Central Government, coordination of the activities of various central and state authorities established under previous Acts, such as the Water Act and the Air Act.
  • In this Act, main emphasis is given to “Environment”, defined to include water, air and land and the inter-relationships which exist among water, air and land and human beings and other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property.
  • “Environmental pollution” is the presence of pollutant, defined as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such a concentration as may be or may tend to be injurious to the environment.
  • “Hazardous substances” include any substance or preparation, which may cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, microorganisms, property or the environment.


Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)

  1. Biosafety concerns have led to the development of regulatory regime in India.
  2. The MoEFCC has notified the Rules for Manufacture, Use/Import/ Export & Storage Of Hazardous Micro Organisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989 [‘Rules 1989’]
  3. Aim of ‘Rules 1989’ is to protect environment, nature and health in connection with application of gene technology and micro-organisms.
  4. These rules cover areas of research as well as large scale applications of GMOs and their products including experimental field trials and seed production.
  5. The Rules 1989 also define the competent authorities and composition of such authorities for handling of various aspects of the Rules.


The Ozone Depleting Substances Rules

  • The rules are framed under the jurisdiction of Environment (Protection) Act.
  • These Rules set the deadlines for phasing out of various ODSs, besides regulating production, trade import and export of ODSs and the product containing ODS.
  • These Rules prohibit the use of CFCs in manufacturing various products beyond 1st January 2003 except in metered dose inhaler and for other medical purposes.
  • Similarly, use of halons is prohibited after 1st January 2001 except for essential use.
  • Other ODSs such as carbon tetrachloride and methylchoroform and CFC for metered dose inhalers can be used upto 1st January 2010.
  • Further, the use of methyl bromide has been allowed upto 1st January 2015.
  • Since HCFCs are used as interim substitute to replace CFC, these are allowed up to 1st January 2040.

National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)

  • National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) is a financing, planning, implementing, monitoring and coordinating authority for the Ganges River, functioning under the Ministry of Water Resources.
  • The mission of the organization is to safeguard the drainage basin which feeds water into the Ganges by protecting it from pollution or overuse.
  • In 2014, the NGRBA has been transferred from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation.
  • It was established by the Central Government of India, in 2009 under Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which also declared Ganges as the ‘National River’ of India.

Composition of NGRBA

  • The Prime Minister the chair of the Authority.

Members belonging to the government sector are as follows:

  • Prime Minister of India
  • Minister of Environment and Forests (Union Minister)
  • Minister of Finance
  • Minister of Urban Development
  • Minister of Water Resources
  • Minister of Power
  • Minister of Sciences and Technology
  • Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal
  • Ministry Of Environment and Forests (state minister)
  • Ministry Of Environment and Forests, secretary

Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 and Amendment, 1982

  • In 1972, Parliament enacted the Wild Life Act (Protection) Act.
  • The Wild Life Act provides for
  1. state wildlife advisory boards,
  2. regulations for hunting wild animals and birds,
  3. establishment of sanctuaries and national parks,
  4. regulations for trade in wild animals, animal products and trophies, and
  5. judicially imposed penalties for violating the Act.

Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980

  • First Forest Act was enacted in 1927.
  • Alarmed at India’s rapid deforestation and resulting environmental degradation, Centre Government enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act in1980.
  • It was enacted to consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce and the duty livable on timber and other forest produce.
  • Forest officers and their staff administer the Forest Act.
  • Under the provisions of this Act, prior approval of the Central Government is required for diversion of forestlands for non-forest purposes.
  • An Advisory Committee constituted under the Act advises the Centre on these approvals.
  • The Act deals with the four categories of the forests, namely reserved forests, village forests, protected forests and private forests.

Biodiversity Act 2000

  • India’s richness in biological resources and indigenous knowledge relating to them is well recognized.
  • The legislation aims at regulating access to biological resources so as to ensure equitable sharing of benefitsarising from their use.
  • The Biological Diversity Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2000 and was passed in 2002.

Salient features of the biodiversity legislation

  • The main intent of this legislation is to protect India’s rich biodiversity and associated knowledge against their use by foreign individuals and organizations without sharing the benefits arising out of such use, and to check biopiracy.
  • This bill seeks to check biopiracy, protect biological diversity and local growers through a three-tier structure of central and state boards and local committees.
  • The Act provides for setting up of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in local bodies. The NBA will enjoy the power of a civil court.

National Green Tribunal Act, 2010

  • Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of NGT to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.
  • It was enacted under India’s constitutional provision of Article 21, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
  • The specialized architecture of the NGT will facilitate fast track resolution of environmental cases and provide a boost to the implementation of many sustainable development measures.
  • NGT is mandated to dispose the cases within six months of their respective appeals.
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