According to the World Health Organization, the capital city New Delhi is one
of the top most polluted cities in the world. Surveys indicate that in New Delhi
the incidence of respiratory disease due to air pollution is about 12 times the
national average. The act Provides for the prevention, control and abatement of
air pollution. It makes provisions, Interalia, for Central and State Boards,
power to declare pollution control areas, restrictions on certain industrial
units, authority of the Boards to limit emission of air pollutants, power of
entry, inspection, taking samples and analysis, penalties, offences by companies
and Government and cognizance of offences etc..
The Act specifically empowers State Government to designate air pollution areas
and to prescribe the type of fuel to be used in these designated areas.
According to this Act, no person can operate certain types of industries
including the asbestos, cement, fertilizer and petroleum industries without
consent of the State Board. Decisions were taken at the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June, 1972, in which
India participated, to take appropriate steps for the preservation of the
natural resources of the Earth which, among other things, include the
preservation of the quality of air pollution;
The Government passed this Act in 1981 to clean up our air by controlling
pollution. This Act also ensures controlling the level of air pollution.
Accordingly, the Indian government enacted specific laws under Article 253 of
the Constitution for the preservation of natural resources and the law enacted
for air preservation. This act applies to Whole of India.
The main objectives of the Act are as follows:
- To provide for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.
- To provide for the establishment of central and State Boards with a view
to implement the Act.
- To confer on the Boards the powers to implement the provisions of the
Act and assign to the Boards functions relating to pollution.
Section 2(a) ‘Air Pollutant’ means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance
(including noise) present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or
tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or
property or environment.
Section 2(b) ‘Air Pollution’ as the presence of any air pollutant in the
Section 2(j) ‘Emission’ means any solid or liquid or gaseous substance coming
out of any chimney, duct or flue or any other outlet.
Section 2(m) ‘occupier’ in relation to any factory or premises, means the person
who has control over the affairs of the factory or the premises, and includes,
in relation to any substance, the person in possession of the substance.
Constitution of the Board
Central Pollution Control Board – Section 3
- It shall have a full-time Chairman, having special knowledge and
practical expertise in matters of environmental protection and having
knowledge and experience in administering institutions dealing with such
matters. This Chairman will be nominated by the Central Government.
- It shall have a full-time Secretary, who shall have the qualifications,
knowledge and experience of scientific, engineering and management aspects
of environmental protection. The Secretary will be appointed by the Central
- It shall have not more than five officials nominated by the Central
Government to represent that Government.
- It shall not have more than five members nominated by the Central
Government, chosen from among the members of the State Boards.
- It shall not have more than three officials who represent the interests
of the fishery, agriculture, or any other industry or trade, which the
Government may think fit to be represented.
- It shall have 2 persons from the companies or corporations, owned,
managed or controlled by the Central Government, nominated by that
State Pollution Control Board - Section 5
- A person, nominated by the State Government, who has special knowledge
and practical experience of dealing with issues related to environmental
protection, shall serve as the Chairman of the State Pollution Control
Board. This Chairman may be whole-time or part-time. This decision will be
left to the discretion of the State Government.
- The Board shall further constitute of not more than five officials,
nominated by the State Government, to serve as representatives of that
- Not more than five people from the local authorities, nominated by the
- Not more than three officials nominated by the State Government, who are
believed to be representing the interests of the industries of fishery,
agriculture or any other industry or trade which the Central Government
thinks ought to be represented.
- Two persons from companies or corporations owned, managed or controlled
by the State Government, and are nominated by that State Government.
Section 6 - Both the Central and State Pollution Boards have been established
for prevention and control of Air Pollution.
Central Board can exercise the powers and performs the functions of a state
Board in the Union Territories. No state Board shall be constituted for a Union
Territory. Provided that in relation to any Union Territory the Central Board
may delegate all or any of its power and functions under this section to such
person or body of persons as the Central Government specify.
Disqualification of the Members
No person shall be the member of the Board who
- has been adjudged insolvent, or
- is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court, or
- has been convicted of an offence which in the opinion of the State
Government involves moral turpitudes, or
- has directly or indirectly by himself or by any partner, any share or
interest in any firm or company carrying on the business of manufacture,
sale, or hire of machinery, industrial plant, control equipment for the
improvement of quality of air, or
- has so abused in the opinion of the State Government his position as a
member as to render his continuance or the State Board detrimental to the
interest of the general public.
The State Government shall, by order in writing remove any member who is or has
become subject to any disqualification mentioned above, he cannot be renominated
as a member.
Tenure of the Members
3 Years from the date of appointment but can continue till the new member enters
upon this office.
Powers and Functions
Central Board- Section 16
- The main function of the Central Board shall be to improve the quality
of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution in the country.
- It may:
- Advise the Central Government on any matter concerning the improvement
of the quality of air
- Plan and cause to be executed a nation-wide programme for the prevention,
control or abatement of air pollution;
- Co-ordinate the activity of State and resolve disputes among them;
- Provide technical assistance and guidance to the state boards, carry out
and sponsor investigations and research relating to problems of air
- Organize through mass media a comprehensive programme regarding the
prevention, control or abatement of air pollution.
- The Central Board may establish or recognize a laboratory to enable the
Central Board to perform its functions under this section efficiently.
State Board – Section 17
Power to give directions: Section 18
- To plan a comprehensive programme for the prevention, control or abatement of
- Advise the State Government on any matter concerning the prevention of
- To inspect, at all reasonable times, any control equipment, industrial
plant or manufacturing process, and to give by order such directions to such
person as it may consider necessary to take steps for prevention of air
- It shall collect and disseminate information regarding air pollution. It
shall organise training and mass awareness programmes regarding air pollution
control, prevention and abatement.
- It shall lay down standards for the emission of air pollutants into the
atmosphere from automobiles or industries, or any other pollutant from any
source. However, a ship or aircraft cannot come into the ambit of a source.
- The State Boards shall also advise the State Government regarding the
suitability of any location which is to be used for setting up any industry,
keeping in mind the air quality which would be impacted if that industry is
- The Boards shall also set up labs in their States, to enable the State
Board to perform its functions effectively.
It states that the Central Board shall follow the directions of the Central
Government while the State Boards shall follow the directions of the respective
State Governments. Where a decision of the Central Board and a State Government
direction are conflicting, the matter shall go to the Central Government for
Where the Central Government thinks that a grave emergency has arisen due to the
State Board defaulting in complying with the orders of the Central Board, then
it can perform the functions of the State Board.
Power to declare air pollution areas: Section 19
The Act states that the State Government, after consulting the State Board, may
declare an area within the State as an ‘air pollution area’. The State
Government may also order for the extension or reduction of an air pollution
area or may even merge one or more areas to make a new pollution area or any
part or parts thereof.
The State Government after consulting the State Board, may also by notification
in the Official Gazette, prohibit the use of any fuel or appliance that may
cause or is likely to cause air pollution. The State Government may also
prohibit the burning of any material (which is not a fuel) if it causes or is
likely to cause air pollution. This is also done after consultations with the
respective State Board.
Power to give restrictions for ensuring standards for emissions from automobiles
It states that the State Government may, after consulting the State Board, issue
instructions to the authority responsible for the registration of vehicles under
the Motor Vehicles Act 1939 and such authority shall be bound to follow these
instructions. This is done to ensure that the standards of emission prescribed
under Section 17(1)(g) are complied with.
Power of Board to make application to Court for restraining a person from
causing air pollution: Section 22A
when the Board believes that there is excess emission being caused by a person
running an industrial plant in any air pollution area, then the Board can make
an application before the Court to restrain him from doing the same.
Under Section 37, whoever fails to comply with the provisions of Section 21, 22
and the directions issued under Section 31A, can be sentenced to imprisonment
for a term of one year and six months. This sentence can be extended to six
years and with fine, if the requisite compliances under the aforesaid sections
are still not carried out, with an additional fine of five thousand rupees every
Under Section 38, penalties for certain acts are laid down. These acts are:
- Destroying, defacing, removing etc any pillar, post, stake or notice
fixed in the ground under the authority of the Board.
- Obstruction of any person acting under orders of the Board from
exercising his powers and functions under the Act.
- Damaging any property belonging to the Board.
- Failure to furnish information to an officer or any employee of the
Board, which is required by such officer or employee.
- Failure to inform about the excess release of emissions than the
standard set by the State Board. Even an apprehension of the release of
excess emissions should be informed to the State Board.
- Giving false statements to Board authorities when furnishing information
- Giving false information to the Board, for getting permission under
Section 21 i.e. permission for setting up industrial plants.
These are offences that shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend
to three months with fine, which may extend to ten thousand rupees or both.
Under Section 39, any order or direction which has been flouted, and for which
there is no punishment anywhere in the Act, shall be punishable with three
months imprisonment or fine of three thousand rupees or both. If failure
continues, there shall be a fine of an additional five thousand rupees every
Section 40 of this Act talks about offences by companies. If an offence is
committed by a company, every such person shall be deemed to be guilty, who is
directly in charge of the company, who was responsible to the company for the
conduct of its business as well as the company itself. He shall be punished
according to the provisions of this Act. However, where such an offence was
committed without the knowledge of such person, or where he had made full
efforts and due diligence to stop these offences, this person shall not be held
Section 40(2) states that where the offence was committed after taking the
consent of the director, manager, secretary or other officer or happened due to
the neglect of the aforesaid people, then they shall be deemed guilty and can be
punished according to the Act.
Section 41 talks about offences committed by governmental departments. Where any
government department has committed an offence under this Act, then the head of
that department shall be liable to be proceeded and accordingly punished.
However, if the Head of Department had no knowledge of the committing of these
offences, or had practised due diligence to prevent these offences from
happening, he shall not be held liable.
Under Section 41(2), if such Head of Department had consented to, or neglected
to prevent, the commission of these offences, then such person shall be liable
to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.
Judicial pronouncements and case studies regarding clean air
- Section 44 states that all members, officers and other employees shall
be deemed to be acting as public servants under Section 21 of the Indian
Penal Code 1860.
- M.C. Mehta v. Union of India 1991 SCR (1) 866 (Vehicular Pollution
In this case, a writ petition was filed by M.C. Mehta regarding air pollution
caused due to vehicular emissions. He prayed for the Court to pass appropriate
orders to prevent pollution.
The Court held that environmental protection is the responsibility of the State
as enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy and Articles 48A and
51A of the Constitution. The Supreme Court observed that the right to a healthy
environment was a basic human right and this included the right to clean air,
covered under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution. In this way, the
Court expanded the scope of Article 21 to include the right to a healthy
environment and clean air under the fundamental rights.
This paved the way for the introduction of lead-free petrol supply in Delhi and
paved the way for the introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG). The Court
also assisted in setting up a committee that was not just aimed at litigation
but also finding long term solutions to the air pollution problem in Delhi.
- Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar 1991, it was held that right to life
under Article 21 included the right to a healthy and safe environment, which in
turn included the right to pollution-free air and water for the full enjoyment
of life. It was held that municipalities and other governmental bodies had an
obligation of taking positive measures to ensure a healthy environment.
It is observed that the legislation to deal with air pollution is pretty strict
and well formulated. It encompasses the scientific aspects of managing air
pollution with the actions of State and Central bodies. The Pollution Control
Boards are bestowed with a wide range of powers and functions to check emission
limits and take appropriate action. However, enforcement still remains lax.