This article is written by Ishaan Banerjee and co-authored by Pruthvi Ramkanta Hegde. This article emphasises the purpose and important provisions of the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981. The article further covers the important judicial pronouncements with regard to the same. Further, it discusses various drawbacks of the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981. 

This article has been published by Shashwat Kaushik.

Table of Contents


Air pollution has been one of the most serious and persistent problems in India. According to the Lancet Study in 2019, air pollution was the cause of 1.6 million deaths fatalities in India. Thus, the urgency for attention and action on this issue needs no further stretching. Many of us must be aware of the plight of Delhi residents in the winter. The winter fog and the smoke from stubble burning, vehicles, carried by the incoming northern winds, combine to make Delhi a ‘gas chamber’. In 2019, Delhi was ranked as one of the most polluted major cities in the world. In these circumstances, we must examine the law framed by India to combat air pollution and determine whether it is enough to combat air pollution. In order to mitigate and control air pollution in India, our lawmakers passed the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act’).

Download Now

Need for Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

Sweden first suggested to the United Nations that there should be a global conference to discuss and prevent pollution and degradation of natural resources. Therefore, with the passing of General Assembly Resolution 2398, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in June 1972.  At this conference, it was decided that the countries would undertake steps to preserve the natural resources, which also include air. Accordingly, the Indian government enacted specific laws under Article 253 of the Indian Constitution for the preservation of natural resources, and the law enacted for air preservation was the Air (Prevention and Control of Air Pollution) Act, 1981. 

The Act’s Preamble states that this Act is for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution, and the burden of fulfilling such purposes falls on the boards established under this Act. 

Scope of Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

This Act applies to the whole of India as enumerated under Section 1(2) of the Act. The Act contains certain definitions which fall under the scope of this Act. Knowing these definitions is important as they will help to understand what qualifies as air pollution according to Indian law so that air polluters can be punished under this Act.

Purpose of Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981 

In order to control the problem of air pollution the Act has been enacted. The Act has set rules for the establishment of the Air Quality Control Board as per Section 3 and Section 4 of the Act. The main function of the Board is to reduce and control the level of air pollution in India as per Section 16 and Section 17 of the Act. The main purpose of the Act is to improve air quality, by setting rules to control industrial pollution, control pollutant emissions from the industries to protect the environment, and set rules to protect human health. The government has the power to make rules as per Section 53 and Section 54 of the Act whenever it is necessary. 

Salient features of Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

What is an ‘air pollutant’ and what is ‘air pollution’? 

  • Section 2(a) defines ‘air pollutant’ as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance that may be harming or injuring the environment, humans, other living creatures, plants or even property. Through the 1987 Amendment, noise was also included in the list of substances that are deemed to be harmful to the environment. Therefore, this Act also provides for the regulation of noise pollution.
  • Section 2(b) defines ‘air pollution’ as the presence of any air pollutant in the atmosphere. 

What Boards are set up under this Act?

  • Section 2(f) classifies the boards to be set up under this Act under two categories: Central and State Boards. 
  • Section 2(g) defines ‘Central Board’ as being the same as the ‘Central Pollution Control Board’ which has been constituted under Section 3 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, which stipulates that this Board shall be set up by the Central Government of India, for the purposes of the Act.
  • Section 6 of the Act states that in the case of Union Territories, the Central Board shall exercise the powers of a State Board under that Act, or it may even delegate these powers or functions to any person or body of persons.
  • Section 2(o) defines ‘State Board’ as a board set up in those states where the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 is in effect and where the State Governments have decided to set up these Boards. This Act also applies to States where the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 is not in effect. ‘State Board’ is the same as the ’State Pollution Control Board’.  
  • Therefore, we observe that while the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 in the first instance, applies to only those states in which it has been given effect, the Air (Prevention and Control of Air Pollution) Act 1981 applies to the whole of India in the first instance. 

Constitution of the boards under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

Section 3 and Section 4 of this Act state that the appropriate powers and functions shall be given to the Central Board and the State Boards respectively, and they shall exercise these powers and not go outside the ambit of these powers.

Constitution of Central Pollution Control Board

Section 3 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 explains the constitution of the Central Pollution Control Board-

  • It shall have a full-time chairman with special knowledge and practical expertise in matters of environmental protection and 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 in scientific, engineering and management aspects of environmental protection. The Secretary will be appointed by the Central Government.
  • 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 two persons from the companies or corporations, owned, managed or controlled by the central government, nominated by that government.

Constitution of State Pollution Control Board

Section 5(2) of the Act explains the constitution of a State Board-

  • A person, nominated by the state government who has special knowledge and practical experience in dealing with issues related to environmental protection, shall serve as the Chairman of the State Pollution Control Board. This chairman may be full-time or part-time. This decision will be left to the discretion of the State Government. 
  • The Board shall further consist of not more than five officials, nominated by the State Government, to serve as representatives of that government.
  • Not more than five people from the local authorities are nominated by the State Government.
  • 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 that 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. 

Members’ terms and conditions of services under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

Section 7 of the Act states the terms and conditions of services of the members. Those  are outlined as follows:

  • Members, excluding member-secretary, will hold up to 3 years of service from the date of their nomination as notified in the official gazette. They will continue until their successors take over.
  • Members’ term will end if such nominated members under clause (b) or clause (e) of Section 5(2) of the Act, hold relevant office in the state government, corporation, or any related company.
  • Members can resign by notifying the State Government (for the Chairman) or the Chairman of the State Board. All members can resign except the member secretary. The vacancy occurs upon the resignation of the members.
  • If the member, except the member-secretary, misses three state board meetings consequently without valid reasons, it is considered that they have vacated their position. Similarly, for those chosen under certain conditions, if they are no longer part of the local authority, they lose their service.
  • Vacancies in the state board are filled by fresh nominations, and the new member serves for the time left in the term of the member who left.
  • Re-nomination of the members is allowed.

Disqualifications of members 

Section 8 of the Act, prescribed disqualifications for the members to contest as a member of the State Board.  According to Section 8(1) of the Act, the following members are considered disqualified members:

  • A person has been declared bankrupt.
  • A person has been declared unsound mind by the court of competent jurisdiction.
  • If a person possesses a criminal record history involving a very serious nature of the offence, as per the view of the State Government.
  • A person committed an offence under this Act.
  • If a person directly or indirectly owns or has a share or interest in any business related to machinery, industrial equipment, or any other related devices or instruments for air quality improvement or pollution control.
  • A person who holds the position of a director, manager, employee, other regular salaried officer, or a secretary in the company that has a contract with the Board, Government, local authority, or government controlled company for air quality programmes.
  • If a person misuses their power or role in a way that harms the public, as determined by the State Government.

As per Section 8(2) of the Act, if the member falls under any disqualifications as stated in Section 8(1), the State Government can remove such member from their position. While removing the members from their position on any one of the grounds, the State Government needs to issue a written letter for removal and also give the opportunity of hearing to such members. No matter what is stated under Section 7(1) and Section 7(6) of the Act, members will be removed from their services if they are found under any disqualification grounds. Such removed members can’t continue their office until their replacement takes over, and they can’t be nominated again.  

Board meetings, committees, and temporary association under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

Board meetings

Section 10 of the Act prescribes the provisions for the board meetings. Accordingly, the Board established under this Act must conduct a meeting every three months. During these meetings, they follow certain rules on how they discuss and decide on things, as stated under the law. If the Chairman feels that there is something very urgent that the Board needs to discuss and decide on, they can call for a meeting at a time other than the regular three-month interval. After conducting each meeting, the Board has to send a summary of what was discussed and decided to both the Central Board and State Government. 

Setting up of committees

As per Section 11 of the Act, the Board has the authority to create different committees. These committees can be made up entirely of board members or a mix of board members and other individuals, depending on the need. Each committee is formed for specific reasons or tasks the Board thinks are important. Once the committee is formed, it will have its own schedule for when and where they meet. They also have specific rules to follow during their meetings, which are in accordance with the Act. If there are other persons on the committee who are not a part of the Board, they can be paid fees and allowances for attending meetings and doing work for the Board. Payment details will be determined in accordance with the Act. 

Temporary association of the person with the Board 

As per Section 12 of the Act, the Board has the flexibility to bring additional individuals, by following certain rules for specific purposes as per the Act. The individuals who are associated with the boards can participate in discussions relevant to their assigned tasks. However, they do not have the right to vote during the board meeting and are not considered full-time board members for any other purposes. Individuals brought in for assistance are entitled to receive compensation in the form of fees and allowances, in accordance with the Act. 

Functions of the Pollution Control Boards

Functions of the Central Board

Section 16 of the Act lays down the functions of the Central Board-

  • The Board shall make efforts for the prevention, abatement and control of air pollution in the country and may advise the Central Government on the same.
  • It may plan and implement a nationwide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.
  • It may coordinate the activities of the State and resolve the disputes that arise between them.
  • It may provide technical assistance to the boards and carry out investigations and research relating to air pollution.
  • It may plan and implement training programmes for the persons to be involved in those programmes.
  • It may help combat air pollution through a mass media programme.
  • It may collect, compile and publish statistical data relating to air pollution and may also prepare manuals, codes or guides relating to measures to combat air pollution.
  • It may lay down standards for the quality of air and shall perform other functions as prescribed. 
  • The Board may also set up a laboratory or multiple laboratories to enable the Board to perform its functions effectively.

Functions of the State Pollution Control Boards

Section 17 lays down the functions to be performed by the State Boards-

  • The State Board shall plan and implement comprehensive programmes for the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution. It shall also advise the State Government on such matters.
  • 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 inspect, at reasonable times, any control equipment, industrial plant or manufacturing process and give orders to the people in charge to further the purposes of combating air pollution. 
  • It shall inspect and assess the air quality at designated air pollution control areas as it may think necessary. 
  • 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 that is to be used for setting up any industry, keeping in mind the air quality which would be impacted if that industry is set up.
  • The Boards shall also set up labs in their States, to enable the State Board to perform its functions effectively.

Powers of the Boards

Power to give directions: Section 18 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 resolution.  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. 

Section 31A prescribes that the Central Government may issue directions to any person, officer, or authority and such party shall be bound to follow the directions. These instructions should be within the powers and functions of the Board, and include- 

  • Closure, prohibition, or regulation of any industry, process or operation.
  • Stoppage or regulation of supply of water, electricity, or any other service.  

Power to declare air pollution areas: Section 19 of 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: Section 20 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.

Restrictions on the use of certain industrial plants: Section 21 talks about setting up industrial plants in compliance with and with the consent of the respective State Board. It prescribes the procedure for making an application to the Board, for which a decision has to be made and intimated to the applicant regarding whether he has permission to set up the plant or not. The conditions are also given for setting up the plant. These should be complied with, otherwise, the permission for the plant can be revoked. The conditions under Section 21(5) are-

  • The necessary control equipment as stipulated by the State Board has to be installed in the plant. This equipment has to be changed according to the decisions and instructions of the State Board. The equipment has to be kept in good running condition. 
  • Chimneys should be erected when and where the Board so directs.

Persons carrying on industry, etc., not to allow emission of air pollutants in excess of the standard laid down by the State Board: Section 22 states that no person heading an industry shall emit any excess amount of emissions than the standards set out by the State Board. 

Power of Board to make application to Court for restraining a person from causing air pollution: Under 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. 

Furnishing of information to State Board and other agencies in certain cases: Under Section 23, where any emission over the prescribed limit occurs due to an accident or unforeseen event, the person operating the industrial plant shall report the facts of the same to the State Board and other relevant authorities, to which they shall take remedial action as soon as possible. 

Power of entry and inspection: Under Section 24, a person authorised by the State Board shall have the power to gain entry into any place for carrying out the performance of any of the functions assigned to him. He may examine and inspect any control equipment, industrial plant, record, register or any other document or object or any place which he has reason to believe was used for the commission of any offence under this Act. The person in charge of these equipment, plants, records, etc. shall assist the person from the State Board to perform the functions. Not doing so, will be an offence.  

Power to obtain information: In Section 25, it is stated that the State Board or any person empowered under it shall have the power to call the person operating such plant or control equipment about any information regarding the type of air pollutant and the amount of emissions released by such plant or equipment. It shall also carry out inspections to verify the same. 

Power to take samples from air or emission and procedure to be followed: Section 26(1) states that samples of air or emissions may be taken from any chimney, flue, duct or any outlet as prescribed. The samples shall be admissible in legal proceedings only on the compliance of conditions laid down in Sections 26(3) and 26(4). These are-

  • The person taking the sample shall notify the occupier or agent of such occupier, of the place from where the sample has been taken.
  • The sample shall be collected in the presence of the occupier or his agent.
  • The sample shall be placed in a container, marked, and sealed. The container shall be signed by both the person taking the sample and the occupier or his agent. This sample shall be sent to labs for testing and analysis.

In a condition where the occupier or agent wilfully absents himself, then the sample shall be put into the container and be signed by the person taking the sample only. In a condition where the sample is being taken in the presence of the occupier or agent, and such occupier or agent refuses to sign the container, the person taking the sample shall sign the container. 

Air laboratory at the State level

As per Section 28 of the Act, the State Government is empowered to establish air laboratories within a particular state by notifying through its official gazette. States can establish more than one laboratory within the state boundary. The functions of the state air laboratories are determined by the concerned State Government. In order to determine the functions of the air laboratory, the state can consult with the State Board. After consulting with the State Board, the State Government can set the rules and regulations with regard to procedures for submitting air or emission samples for analysis, testing to the laboratory, fee structure, laboratory reports, and some other necessary matters that are essential for the laboratory to perform its activities.

Appeals under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

As per Section 31 of the Act, if any person is not satisfied with the decision or order of the State Board under this legislation, they can opt for an appeal. Section 31(1) of the Act,  states that the appeal shall be made within thirty days from the date of the order which is communicated to the aggrieved person. The appeal shall be made to the Appellate Authority as constituted by the State Government as it thinks fit. However, if there are sufficient reasons for not appealing within thirty days, a  higher authority can consider it with discretionary power.

Constitution of the Appellate Authority

Section 31 of the Act prescribes the provisions for the constitution of the Appellate Authority that include:

  • According to Section 31(2), the appellate authority must have a single or three persons appointed by the State Government.
  • According to Section 31(3), the rules for appeals, and fee structure will be determined with specific guidelines.
  • According to Section 31(4), if someone approaches appellate authority as an appellant, the authority will listen to the person appealing with fair procedures and then make a decision as soon as possible.

As per Section 31B of the Act, if a person is not satisfied with the order or decision of the Appellate Authority issued under Section 31, such aggrieved party can make an appeal before the National Green Tribunal, provided that such decisions are taken after the establishment of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The appellant can seek an appeal under Section 3 of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010.

Funds, budget and annual report of boards under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981


Section 33 of the Act, states the funds of each Board. It states about the management of the funds of the Boards. Accordingly, every State Board has its own fund, which includes money from the Central Government and other sources like contributions from the State Government, fees, gifts, grants and donations. This fund is used to support the Board’s activities. The State Board can spend money from its fund on tasks outlined in the Act. all expenses made by the Board come from this fund. There is an exception for State Pollution Control Boards under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974. These Boards have the authority to use their funds for tasks related to preventing, controlling, or reducing air pollution. According to Section 33A, the Board has the power to borrow money, either through loans or by issuing bonds, debentures, or other instruments. This power requires consent or approval from the Central or State Government. 


According to Section 34, each year, the Central Board or the State Board must prepare a budget showing expected income and expenses for the upcoming financial year. The budget needs to be in a prescribed form and submitted to the Central or State Government for review. 

Annual Report

Section 35 of the Act, specifies the annual report of each Board includes as follows:

Central Board’s Report

Every year, the Central Board has to create a report that describes every activity that occurred during the past year. This report needs to follow a specific format. Within four months from the end of the financial year, the Board sends copies of this report to the Central Government. The Central Government then has to share these reports with both houses of Parliament within nine months from the end of the financial year. 

States Board’s Report

Every year, each State Board also has to prepare a report. It needs to state the previous year’s activities which are made by each State Board. The report copies with the prescribed form need to be sent to the respective State Government within four months from the end of the financial year. The State Government then shares this report with the State Legislature within nine months from the end of the financial year.

Maintenance of financial report under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

As per Section 36 of the Act, it is compulsory that Central and State boards must be required to maintain correct financial records and accounts of their activities. Every board needs to prepare an annual financial report as set by the Central or State Board. The financial accounts of the board will be audited by an auditor. Appointment of an auditor will be conducted by the State Government or Central Government after getting the necessary instructions from the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India. The auditor has every power to inspect any officers of the concerned board to get each and every financial record, including, accounting reports, books of account, related vouchers, and other documents essential for conducting the audit. After conducting the audit, the auditor has to submit an audited report to the connected State Government or Central Government as the case may be. Finally, the Central Government will present such a report to both Houses of Parliament. Similarly, the State Government will present such a report to the State Legislature.

Penalties and procedures under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981


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 a fine, if the requisite compliances under the aforesaid sections are still not carried out, with an additional fine of five thousand rupees every day.

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, that 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 reported 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 a fine of three thousand rupees or both. If failure continues, there shall be a fine of an additional five thousand rupees every day.
  • 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 is 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 a person, or where he had made full efforts and due diligence to stop these offences, this person shall not be held liable.
  • Section 40(2) further states that where the offence was committed after obtaining 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 40 includes two definitions-

  • Company: Any corporate body, including a firm or another association of individuals.
  • Director: In relation to a firm, it means a partner in the firm.

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.

Furthermore, as provided 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.


Sections 42 to 46 cover procedures. Section 42 states that no suit, prosecution or another legal proceeding shall lie against the government, any officer of the government or any member, employee or officer of the Board, where the actions are done by such body or persons are done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act.

Section 43 states that the Court shall take cognizance of only those offences where the complaint is made by-

  • A Board or any officer authorised under it
  • Any person who has given notice of not less than sixty days, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint to the Board or an officer authorised by it.

No court inferior to that of a Metropolitan Magistrate or Judicial Magistrate of First Class shall try any offence punishable under this Act.

  • 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.
  • Section 45 states that the Central Board shall provide information in the form of data, statistics, reports or another form of information etc to the Central Government and the State Board shall also provide information in these forms, both to the Central Board and the State Government.
  • Section 46 involves a bar of jurisdiction. It states that no civil court shall have jurisdiction in any matter in which an Appellate Authority formed under this Act is empowered by this Act to decide, nor should an injunction be granted in respect of any action taken under the pursuance of the powers of this Act.  

Maintaining of register under Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

According to Section 51 of the Act, Every State Pollution Control Board must keep a register. This register includes information about people who have been given permission under Section 21. It also notes the emission standards set by the Board for each of these permissions. Other details required by the rules are also recorded. Register, can be checked by anyone interested or affected by the emissions standards. This means that during reasonable hours, any person or someone authorised by them can look at the register to understand emissions standards and related details.

Priority of the enactment

According to Section 52, the Act has a superseding effect. This means that this legislation has higher authority and overriding effect. That overrides any conflicting provisions in other laws except for the specific exceptions like those related to radioactive air pollution in the Atomic Energy Act 1962.

Judicial pronouncements surrounding Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India 1991 (Vehicular Pollution Case)

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. Similarly, in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991), it was held that the 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 to take positive measures to ensure a healthy environment. 

The interesting case of Delhi

  • Air pollution in Delhi has been a major problem for many years but started coming into the limelight in the 1990s. With the advent of the 1981 Act, pollution control boards were set up and the number of regulations on the environment has heightened. 
  • In 1996, the Supreme Court issued a suo moto notice to the Delhi government, asking it to submit an action plan for clean air. The cases instituted by M.C. Mehta and the general public furore over the state of the air further aggravated the issue. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) was set up along with the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
  • On the basis of a report of the EPCA, the Supreme Court accordingly issued orders for vehicles to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). This was a major success. However, in the coming years, the number of vehicles increased from 4.24 million in 2004 to more than 10.8 million in March 2018, in addition to an increase in stubble burning and construction activities (many of which are illegal). 
  • Over the years, monitoring stations have been set up across Delhi to measure the amount of particulate matter in the air. Public awareness and efforts have definitely increased, with measures like the Odd-even scheme and Supreme Court orders on cracker bans, and construction activities bans; being implemented. 
  • In 2016, after the heavy smog wreaked havoc in Delhi, the Supreme Court again asked the national government to make a plan to combat such episodes of air pollution. This programme came to be known as the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
  • This programme entails the identification of high-pollution areas within Delhi through monitoring and measuring air quality, and then identifying the problems and formulating local actions for those areas. 
  • There is no doubt that Delhi still suffers from an air crisis every year. One must understand that this occurs due to a host of factors which need mass action. 

Virendra Gaur And Ors v. State of Haryana And Ors (1994)

This case involves disputes over a piece of land in Haryana that is adversely affecting the environment. The court considered environmental concerns by emphasising the importance of maintaining a healthy and pollution-free environment for human well-being. The Municipal Committee in Thanesar had plans for the area and the government of Haryana approved it in 1975. Further one of the landowners gave up part of her area for construction purposes. However, the Government later allowed land to be leased to a private trust, Punjab Samaj Sabha (PSS) for constructing Dharamshala. Meanwhile, people who originally owned that land filed the petition before the court. They claimed that the government had no right to lease the land to the PSS for such construction. They argued that the government’s original plan was for public spaces and the government exceeded its authority. The private trust on the other hand argued that they wanted to construct Dharamshala which was for charitable purposes, which was allowed. The Judiciary, after considering both party’s arguments, held that a clean and healthy environment is crucial for a good life. The government and Municipalities both are vested with the duty to protect the environment. The court found that government decisions to lease the land to the PSS are violative of the original purpose. Further, the court also widens the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by interpreting that, ‘pollution-free air’ is also a part of the right to life. Having clean air, water, and proper sanitisation is very important for an individual to lead a well-dignified life. The court also cited the Stockholm Declaration of the United States on Human Environment, stating that individuals have the fundamental right to live in an environment conducive to dignity and well-being.

MC Mehta v. Union of India (1996) 

In this case, the Honourable Supreme Court ruled for the protection of the Taj Mahal.  Accordingly, Indian environmental activist M.C. Mehta filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Honourable Supreme Court of India regarding the prevention of the Taj Mahal from harmful emissions being released by some industries. With respect to PIL, the court took cognizance of the issue and marked certain areas as special zones that are known as the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ). That encompasses around 10,400 square kilometres. This zone was considered a special zone to combat pollution and to preserve the monument. By considering the urgency of the matter immediate actions were taken by the court. Similarly, factories that were causing pollution by emitting poisonous gas had to close or use cleaner technologies like compressed natural gas. The court while giving the judgement also considered the Varadarajan Committee’s Report and directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the State of Uttar Pradesh and the Government of India to create a plan for moving industries gradually in an organised way. While deciding the matter, the court has taken several principles of law that include, the Polluter Pay Principle, Precautionary Principle and ideas of Sustainable Development. The court also ordered the closure of 292 industries in the Taj Trapezium Zone. This case is considered one of the landmark judgments being given by the Honourable Supreme Court. 

Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India (1989)

This case is considered one of the landmark cases in India because of its profound impact on the legal, environmental and corporate governance issues in India. Generally, this case is named as ‘Bhopal Gas Tragedy’. The Honourable Supreme Court of India has upheld the aspects of environmental protection in this case. Accordingly, the pesticide plant, which was owned by the American subsidiary company known as Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) is situated in the city called Bhopal which is a central part of India. One fine day, a dangerous disaster was caused by the release of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. This gas is one of the most toxic gas substances that is used in the production of pesticides. The gas had leaked due to a lapse in precautionary measures, and a lack of maintenance. Suddenly, water entered a storage tank that contained MIC. This resulted in the release of large amounts of poisonous gas into the atmosphere. Due to this incident, so many people died and many suffered a lot of health issues due to the release of toxic substances. When the matter was brought before the Honourable Supreme Court, it was held that Union Carbide Corporation should pay compensation to victims of the gas leakage. The court also widens the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life. Accordingly, the right to live in a pollution-free environment is also a fundamental right that is stated under Article 21. While deciding the matter, the court also considered the strict liability principle.

MC Mehta v. Union of India (1986)

This case involves an industrial disaster that is causing adverse effects on the environment. The Shriram Food and Fertiliser Gas Leak is about a gas leak that happened in 1985, similar to the Bhopal gas tragedy.  Environmental activist MC Mehta filed the petition before the Honourable Supreme Court of India to stop the Shriram Food and Fertiliser industry from reopening after the leak of toxic gas. The court, after considering facts, both parties’ arguments, public interest, and protection of the environment, applied the absolute liability principle. Accordingly, without considering the fault grounds the wrongdoer will be made liable. The court also considered Article 21 and Article 32 of the Constitution. Article 21 which guarantees the fundamental rights of life and liberty, was interpreted as being an important public interest in relation to private companies. However, the Supreme Court ultimately granted temporary permission for the plant to reopen and has formulated several rules that the company must abide by those rules strictly. The court also contended that failure to follow those rules would lead to the closure of the industry.

Mathew Lukose and Others v. Kerala State Pollution Control Board (1990)

In this case, the Kerala High Court upheld the protection of the environment through its decisions. In 1990, the court heard a case, where a company was accused of causing pollution by releasing harmful substances like calcium carbide and acetylene black into nearby streams and air. This pollution caused serious health issues. The court found that the pollution exceeded acceptable limits. Further, it was found that the act is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The court interpreted the right to life which includes clean air and good health. The court emphasised the fact that industry and life must coexist, but environmental protection is too important. The court also suggested the establishment of a National Environment and Audit Agency with the power to plan, control, manage, and enforce environmental standards. The court recommended that before allowing the company to operate, there should be an environmental audit to ensure it won’t harm the environment.

K. Ramakrishnan v. State of Kerala (1999)

In this case, the petitioner filed this case before the court to stop people from smoking in public places. They wanted the government to take action against those who were smoking in public. The same is considered an offence as per the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which is addressed as affecting public tranquillity and public nuisances. The court decided that smoking in public not only caused air pollution but also harmed the health of people around. It is further stated that smoking in public, whether it is cigarettes, cigars, or any other form, is against the law. It is also violative of Article 21. The court interpreted the right to life also includes the right to lead a healthy life. The court contended that smoking in public places is a public nuisance. It affects everyone in the community.

M/S Pahwa Plastics Pvt Ltd and Anr v. Dastak NGO and Ors (2021)

In this case, the Honourable Supreme Court of India ruled that certain businesses like manufacturing units, cannot operate if they don’t have prior approval for environmental clearance. The key issue in this case was whether a business with about 8000 workers, had obtained Consent to Establish (CTO) and Consent to Operate (COP) from the concerned authority. It could be closed down while waiting for retroactive environmental clearance, even if it was not causing pollution and compiled with pollution control standards.

Drawbacks of Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

While the Act is essential for mitigating air pollution in India, it faces certain challenges. The rules are not consistently enforced, making it hard to control and monitor pollution effectively. The major issue with this enactment is that it mainly focuses on the major sources of pollution like factories and industries, forgetting about other important sources of pollution like landfills, vehicles, and households. When this law was enacted in those periods, these were not major concerns. The study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in 2015 stated that dust is one of the biggest sources of air pollution. The provisions of the enactment are not updated except in 1987. This change allows the Board to get more powers and punishments for rule breakers. However, this Act still insists officers go into factories and collect the samples in order to check in the laboratory, so even if the new system shows that the pollution control boards can’t use that information to take legal action against factories. It is like having a better way to catch polluters, but the rules have not changed to use it properly. The Act may not grant the pollution control board to make the necessary independent decisions. Similarly, boards may have limited power in making rules and amendments. The Board requires prior government approval for enforcing any critical decisions taken. Sometimes, the punishments for breaking the pollution rules may not be strict. On the other hand, it is difficult to keep a record of the pollution. The provisions do not keep up with new technologies since they are not updated. In 2014, the Environment Ministry appointed T.S.R Subramanian to lead the committee reviewing environmental laws. The Committee expressed the opinion that the provisions of the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act are already subsumed in the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, therefore the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act should be repealed. MP Gourav Gogai promised to bring many changes to this enactment by giving more authority to the Central Board, in November 2019. However, despite the promise, Gogai has not introduced any new bills or any such amendments.

Several ways to strengthen the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981

In order to improve the legislation, the law needs to be updated by making necessary amendments regularly. The provisions of the Act currently focus on the big industries and factories. The rules and regulations needed to focus on the other sources of air pollution like dust, household wastes etc., for instance, in Punjab and Haryana farmers burn leftover parts of the rice plants in order to get their fields ready for the next crop. Though it helps them to get their field for growing other crops, it creates very thick smoke that causes huge air pollution and affects human health too.  The rules also need to keep up with new technology, this is possible only when it is updated as per the new technology. Moreover, both the Central Board and the State Board have to make decisions independently, with less government intervention. 


It is observed that the legislation to deal with air pollution is pretty strict and well formulated. It is one of the crucial legislation in India which safeguards air quality and mitigates pollution. Likewise, 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. Robust regulation helps to regulate air pollution and reduces the occurrence of disasters which happen due to negligence. Therefore, “prevention is always better than cure.” However, enforcement still remains lax. Meanwhile, the Judiciary and Government do not often rely on this legislation to regulate air pollution. Many efforts were made to make changes and repeal the Act with an updated one. But enactment still exists the way it is enacted except for some changes made in 1987. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who is responsible for the implementation of the Air (Prevention and Control) of Pollution Act 1981?

The Act is implemented by the Central Pollution Control Board at the national level and the State Pollution Control Board at the state level.

How does the Act address vehicular pollution?

The Act has provisions for the control of vehicular pollution by setting emissions standards for vehicles and promoting the use of cleaner fuels. Section 20 to section 22A of the Act covers different provisions for the control of vehicular pollution.

Can an industry appeal against the decisions of pollution control authorities under the Act?

Yes, industry does have the right to appeal against the decisions of the pollution control authorities. Section 31 of the Act deals with the provisions for the appeal.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here