The Environment (Protection) Act is an Act of Parliament of India. It was enacted in the year 1986, under Article 253 of the Constitution of India. The main objective of the Act is to provide for the protection and improvement of environment and for matters connected therewith. The Government of India participated in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June, 1972, which aimed at protection and enhancement of the environmental quality, to prevent environmental hazards, and to provide speedy action in the event of any contingency in order to minimise the danger to human health and environmental safety. This Act is an umbrella legislation which is meant to provide a framework for the activities of various central and state authorities established under previous laws, such as the Water Act and the Air Act.
The decision to implement the measures taken at the United Nations Conference was taken by India after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, which is considered to be the worst industrial tragedy in India.
The Act comprises of four chapters and twenty six sections. The Act basically deals with the powers of the Central Government to make rules and take action for the purpose of protecting the environment. It also bestows the power upon the Government to appoint officers for the proper functioning of the Act and for achieving the objectives in the Act. It also provides for penalties for contravention of the provisions of the Act.
Objectives of the Act
The main objective of the Act is to protect and improve the environmental quality. Other objectives are:
- To implement the decisions made at the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972, in which India was a participant.
- To enact a general law on the areas of environmental protection which were not touched by existing laws. The existing laws were more specific in nature and concentrated on a more specific type of pollution and specific categories of hazardous substances rather than on general problems that caused major environmental hazards, for instance, Air Act, Water Act, Wildlife Protection Act.
- To co-ordinate activities of the various regulatory agencies under the existing laws
- To provide for the creation of an authority or authorities for environmental protection
- To provide a deterrent punishment to those who endanger human environment, safety and health
Section 2 of the Act defines the following terms:
(a) “Environment” includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and property.
(b) “Environment pollutant” means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be, or tend to be, injurious to environment.
(c) “Environmental pollution” means the presence in the environment of any environment pollutant.
(d) “Handling”, in relation to any substance, means the manufacture, processing, treatment, package, storage, transportation, use, collection, destruction, conversation, offering for sale, transfer or the like of such substance.
(e) “Hazardous substance” means any substance or preparation which, by reason 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 the environment.
Powers of the Central Government to take measures to Protect the Environment
Under Section 3 of the Act, the Central Government has all the powers to take action it deems necessary for protecting the environment.
(i) co-ordination of actions by the State Government, officers and other authority –
(a) under this Act, or the rules made thereunder; or
(b) under any other law for the time being in force which is relatable to the objects of this Act;
(ii) planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
(iii) laying down standards for the quality of environment in its various aspects;
(iv) laying down standards for the 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;
(v) 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;
(vi) laying down procedures and safeguards of the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and remedial measures for such accidents;
(vii) laying down procedure and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances;
(viii) examination of such manufacturing processes, materials and substances as are likely to cause environmental pollution;
(ix) carrying out and sponsoring investigations and research relating to problems of environment pollution;
(x) inspection of any premises, plant, equipment, machinery, manufacturing or other processing, 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;
(xi) establishment or recognition of environmental laboratories and institutes to carry out the functions entrusted to such environmental laboratories and institutes under this Act;
(xii) collection and dissemination of information in respect of matters relating to environmental pollution;
(xiii) preparation of manuals, codes or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
(xiv) 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.
Important Pronouncements By the Supreme Court
The powers of the Supreme Court are not curtailed by the Act. Some important pronouncement by Supreme Court to control pollution are:
M. C. Mehta v Union of India (1998) 6 SCC 63
Following directions were issued to control the disorderly traffic conditions and vehicular pollution:
(a) Vehicles more than 20 years old should not be permitted to ply in Delhi after October 1998.
(b) Vehicles which are 17 to 19 years old shall not be permitted to ply in the National Capital Territory, Delhi after 1998;
(c) Vehicles which are 15- 16 years old shall not be permitted to ply after December 1998 in NCT, Delhi.
This order was applied by the Apex Court on all commercial/transport vehicles whether registered in the NCT, Delhi or outside (but ply in Delhi) which are of more than abovementioned age and which do not have any authority to ply in Delhi.
Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs Union of India
The Apex Court held that it is the duty of the coastal states and Union Territories in which the coastal stretch exists, to see that the notifications issued, declaring the coastal stretches should be properly and duly implemented. Also, the restrictions imposed on setting up of the industries in the regulation zone should be strictly enforced.
Goa Foundation vs Diksha Holdings Pvt. Ltd
The Court held that there should be no violation of the notifications issued by Central Government and no prohibited activities should be allowed in coastal regulation zone. It also held that activities resulting in unscientific and unsustainable development and ecological destruction should not be permitted in these areas.
Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution
Chapter III of the Act deals with prevention, control and abetment of environmental pollution. It states that any person carrying on any industry, operation or process shall not discharge any environmental pollutant in excess of the limits prescribed. Any industry, operation or process which permits such discharge of environmental pollutant in excess of the standards laid down under the rules shall be prohibited to be carried on.
Persons handling the hazardous substances shall do so in accordance with the procedure and after complying with the safeguards prescribed under the rules.
The person liable for discharge of any environmental pollutant in excess of the prescribed standards is bound to prevent or rectify the pollution and shall also:
(a) intimate the fact of occurrence of such discharge or accident or apprehension of such occurrence; and
(b) be bound, if called upon, to render all assistance. On receipt of such information, the authorities or agencies shall take such remedial and mitigating measures as are necessary to prevent or mitigate the environmental pollution.
The costs of mitigation incurred by any authority or agency may be recovered from the person responsible as arrears of land revenue or of public demand.
Section 15 deals with the penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act and the rules, orders and directions. Any failure to comply with the provisions of the Act is 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 such failure or contravention continues, the person is penalized with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention.
If such contravention continues beyond a period of one year from the date of first conviction, then the term of imprisonment may extend up to seven years.
Under Section 16, if an offence under the Act is committed by any company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly in charge 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. But such person shall not be liable to punishment provided that he proves that such offence was committed without his knowledge or he exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.
Cognizance of Offences by the Courts
Section 19 states that no Court shall take cognizance of any offence under this Act except on a complaint made by –
(a) the Central Government or any authority or officer authorized in this behalf by that Government; or
(b) any person who has given notice of not less than sixty days, in the manner prescribed, of the alleged offence and of his intention to make a complaint, to the Central Government or the authority or officer authorized as aforesaid.
There are several proposed amendments to the Act to increase coherence and consistency in the Act. The amended Act can be implemented in a better and effective way, leading to a more sustainable management of environment, as believed by the legislators.