The Environment Protection Act, 1986

The Environment Protection Act, in collaboration with important Supreme Court judgments, has attempted to protect crucial elements of our biology and maintain a balance between development and sustainability. This article discusses important case laws and provisions of the Act that are present to ensure to we do not make the environment hazardous where it is unsafe for humans to sustain themselves.

Wed Jul 27 2022 | Govt. Agencies and Taxation | Comments (0)


The Environment protection Act provides for protection and improvement of environment and for matters connected therewith.
The United Nations conference on human environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, proclaimed that " Man is both creator and molder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has reached when through the rapid acceleration of science and technology man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on unprecedented scale. Both aspects of man's environment, the natural and man made are essential to his well being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights even the right to life itself.
"Environment" includes water, air, and land and the interrelationship that exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property.
"Environmental Pollutant" means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be, or tend to be injurious to environment.
"Hazardous Substance" means any substance or preparation which, by reasons of its chemical or physico-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism, property or environment.
Environmental pollution means imbalance in environment. The materials or substances when after mixing in air, water or land alters their properties in such manner, that the very use of all or any of the air water and land by man and any other living organism becomes lethal and dangerous for health.

Powers of The Supreme Court

The Act does not curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. It has from time to time in various matters issued directions and orders to control pollution.
In Mehta v Union of India 1999 in order to control the chaotic traffic conditions and vehicular pollution, the Supreme Court issued the following directions.

  1. All commercial/transport vehicles which are more than 20 years old should be phased out and not permitted to ply in Delhi after October 1998
  2. All such commercial /transport vehicles which are 17 to 19 years old (3200) shall not be permitted to ply in the National Capital Territory, Delhi after 1998;
  3. Such of the commercial /transport vehicles which are 15 and 16 years old (4962) shall not be permitted to ply after December 31, 1998
The Supreme Court made this order applicable to all commercial/transport vehicles whether registered in the National Capital Territory of Delhi or outside (but ply in Delhi) which are of more than stipulated age and which do not have any authority to ply in Delhi.
In Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v Union of India the Supreme Court in regard to the 600 kms long coast line emphasised that that it would be the duty and responsibility of the coastal states and Union Territories in which the stretch exists, to see that the notifications issued, declaring the coastal stretches should be properly and duly implemented. Further the various restrictions on the setting up and expansion of industries, operation or process, etc. in the regulation Zone should be strictly enforced.
In the same case the court enunciated the principle further that the polluter pays. Once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make good the loss caused to any other person irrespective of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying on his activity. Under this principle it is not the role of the Government to meet the costs involved in either prevention of such damage or in carrying out remedial action, because the effect of this would be to shift the financial burden of the pollution incident on the taxpayer. The responsibility of repairing the damage is that of the offending industry.
In Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum v. Union of India & others the polluter principle as interpreted by the Supreme Court means that the absolute liability for harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also the cost of restoring the environmental degradation. Remediation of the damaged environment is part of the process of "Sustainable Development" and as such polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferer as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology.
In Goa Foundation v Diksha Holdings Pvt. Ltd the court observed that with a view to protect the ecological balance in the coastal areas, notifications having been issued by the Central Government, there ought not to be any violation and prohibited activities should not be allowed to come up within the area declared as CRZ notification. The court also emphasised that no activities which would ultimately lead to unscientific and unsustainable development and ecological destruction should be allowed.

Power of Central Government to Take Measures to Protect and Improve Environment

  1. The Central Government, shall have the power to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing controlling and abating environmental pollution.
  2. Such measures may include measures with respect to all or any of the following matters, namely:

    1. co-ordination of actions by the State Governments, officers and other authorities-
      • under this Act, or the rules made thereunder, or
      • under any other law for the time being in force which is relatable to the objects of this Act;
    2. planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
    3. laying down standards for the quality of environment in its various aspects;
    4. laying down standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources whatsoever: Provided that different standards for emission or discharge may be laid down under this clause from different sources having regard to the quality or composition of the emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from such sources;
  1. restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards;
  2. laying down procedures and safeguards for the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and remedial measures for such accidents;
  3. laying down procedures and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances;
  4. examination of such manufacturing processes, materials and substances as are likely to cause environmental pollution;
  5. carrying out and sponsoring investigations and research relating to problems of environmental pollution;
  6. inspection of any premises, plant, equipment, machinery, manufacturing or other processes, materials or substances and giving, by order, of such directions to such authorities, officers or persons as it may consider necessary to take steps for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
  7. establishment or recognition of environmental laboratories and institutes to carry out the functions entrusted to such environmental laboratories and institutes under this Act;
  8. collection and dissemination of information in respect of matters relating to environmental pollution;
  9. preparation of manuals, codes or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
  10. such other matters as the Central Government deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of securing the effective implementation of the provisions of this Act.
  1. The Central Government may, if it considers it necessary or expedient so to do for the purpose of this Act, by order, published in the Official Gazette, constitute an authority or authorities by such name or names as may be specified in the order for the purpose of exercising and performing such of the powers and functions (including the power to issue directions under section (5) of the Central Government under this Act and for taking measures with respect to such of the matters referred to in sub-section (2) as may be mentioned in the order and subject to the supervision and control of the Central Government and the provisions of such order, such authority or authorities may exercise and powers or perform the functions or take the measures so mentioned in the order as if such authority or authorities had been empowered by this Act to exercise those powers or perform those functions or take such measures.

As considerable adverse environment impact has been caused due to degradation of the environment with excessive soil erosion and water and air pollution due to certain development activities therefore it is necessary to protect the environment. This can be achieved only by careful assessment of a project proposed to be located in any area, on the basis of an environment impact assessment and environment management plan for the prevention, elimination or mitigation of the adverse impacts, right from the inception stage of the project

The Central Government has passed certain notifications laying that the expansion or modernisation of any existing industry or new projects listed shall not be undertaken in any part of India, unless it gets environmental clearance by the Central Government, or the State Government.


Prevention Control and Abatement of Environmental Pollution

  1. No person carrying on any industry, operation or process shall discharge or emit or permit to be discharged or emitted any environmental pollutant in excess of such standards as may be prescribed.
  2. No person shall handle or cause to be handled any hazardous substance except in accordance with such procedure and after complying with such safe guards as may be prescribed.
  3. Where the discharge of any environmental pollutant in excess of the prescribed standards occurs or is apprehended to occur due to any accident or other unforeseen act or event, the person responsible for such discharge and the person in charge of the place at which the discharge occurs shall be bound to prevent or mitigate the environmental pollution and shall also

    1. intimate the fact of such occurrence or apprehension of such occurrence; and
    2. be bound, if called upon, to render all assistance.
  4. On receipt of such information, the authorities or agencies shall cause such remedial measures to be taken as are necessary to prevent or mitigate the environmental pollution.

The expenses incurred by any authority or agency may be recovered from the person concerned as arrears of land revenue or of public demand.

Penalties For Contravention

Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions, rules, orders or directions of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both. In case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues.
If the failure or contravention continues beyond a period of one year after the date of conviction, the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which, may extend to seven years.
Where any offence is committed by a company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly incharge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence.
If he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence he shall not be liable to any punishment.
Where the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of or is attributable to any neglect on part of , any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such person shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence.

Cognizance of Offences & Bar of Jurisdiction of Civil Courts

  1. No court shall take cognizance of any offence under this Act except on a complaint made by

    1. the central Government or any authority or officer authorised in this behalf by that Government; or
    2. any person who has given notice of not less that 60 days, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint, to the Central Government or the authority or officer authorised.
  2. No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of anything done, action taken or order or direction issued by the Central Government or any other authority or officer in pursuance of the A
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