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This article is written by Shreya, a student of the third year from Army Institute of Law, Mohali. She has discussed the essential provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 along with the powers of the government and jurisdiction of the Act.


Man has tried to take nature to a considerable extent and his endeavour to conquer nature has succeeded. The concern over the environment has grown as the quality is degrading. It has been evidenced by increasing pollution, the loss of biodiversity, loss of vegetal cover, growing risks of environmental accidents and also the harmful chemicals in the ambient atmosphere has possessed a threat to the environment.

Due to its growing risks, various legislations are being propounded by the government. Various Acts related to a specific type of pollution have been passed in the India legislature. The most important statute is the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, as it is the general legislation for the protection of the environment.

It was enacted under Article 253 of the Indian constitution and the expression in the say of environmental quality was taken at the United Nation Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972. The government of India strongly voiced against the environmental concerns and further passed many Acts related to the environment.

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The Environmental Protection Act, 1986 (EPA) was passed with the following objects:

(i) It was enacted to implement the decisions which were made at the United Nation Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972.

(ii) Creation of authority for government protection.

(iii) Coordinating the activities of various regulating agencies which is done under the existing law.

(iv) The main task is to enact general laws for environmental protection, which could be unfolded in areas of severe environmental hazards.

(v) Providing deterrent punishment to those who inculcate in endangering the human environment, safety and health.

(vi) The main goal for the environment should be sustainable development and it can be regarded as one of the goals for Environment Protection Act, 1986.

(vii) Sustainable development includes achieving the object and the purpose of the act as well as the protection of life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.


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Scope and commencement of the Act

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 extends to whole India and it came into force on 19th November.

Section 2 of the Environmental protection Act, 1986 (EPA) deals with some of the information about the definition of the Act and these definitions are as follows:

“Environment” the word environment includes water, air, land and also the inter-relation between their existence. It also includes human beings and other living creatures such as plants, micro-organisms and property.

“Environmental Pollutants” means any substance in solid, liquid or gaseous form which in consideration is injurious to the health of living beings.

“Handling” means any substance which is in the relation of being manufactured, processed, collected, used, offered for sale or like of such substance.

“Environmental Pollution” includes the presence of environmental pollutants in the environment.

“Hazardous substance” includes the substance or the preparation by which the physical-chemical property is liable to harm the human beings or other living creatures such as plants, microorganisms and the property.

“Occupier” is in the relation of factory or any other premises which means a person who has control over the affairs of it.

From the above definitions given the Environmental protection Act tends to cover a wide range of matters related to the environment protection.

Power of the Central government for measures to protect and improve the Environment

It is the power vested in the central government that they can take any reasonable and valid steps and measures for the purpose of the protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. These measures are taken for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental Pollution.

Such measures may include measures with respect to all namely as follows.

  1. Laying down the standards for the quality of the standards of the environment.
  2. Coordination of actions which are obliged to the state officers and other authorities under any law.
  3. Execution and proper planning of the worldwide national programme for the prevention, controlling and the abatement of environmental pollution.
  4. Restrictions to be applied in any of the industries, process and any operation shall be carried out.
  5. It is the power and the duty of the government to lay down the procedure to carry forward safeguards for the prevention of many inevitable accidents which may inculcate in more environmental pollution.
  6. Proposal of remedies should be put forward for the protection and prevention of further incidents.
  7. Duty and power to lay down the procedures and safeguards to handle the hazardous substance.
  8. Examination of manufacturing processes should be done, materials, substances which are likely to cause environmental pollution.
  9. Power to inspect at various premises, equipment, material and the substances and power to direct the authorities for the prevention and control of environmental pollution.
  10. To collect the dissemination in the respect of information related to environmental pollution.
  11. Preparation of the manuals, codes, guides which are considered suitable enough for controlling environmental pollution.
  12. One of the most important tasks is to establish the laboratories.
  13. Serving other matters which are necessary for the central government to deal for the effective implementation of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.

Under Section 3 of the following act, the central government has the power to authorize or constitute other authorities for the accurate implementation of powers and duties which are mentioned above.

Section 3 of the Environmental Protection Act holds importance due to the fact of a better regulatory mechanism.

In the case of Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v Union of India, the Supreme Court has directed the central government to constitute the ‘authority’ for the implementation of powers under section 3(3). Thus, the Court directed while keeping in the notice about the degrading quality of the environment that authorities should implement the ‘precautionary principle’ and ‘pollution pay principle’.

Power to give direction

The central government in the exercise of powers designated by the Act can issue the directions in writing to any of the person or any officer. They shall be bound to comply with these given directions.

The powers to issue directions will include the power to direct which are as follows:

(i) The direction of closure, prohibition or the regulation of any industry and its operational process.

(ii)direction for the stoppage or regulation of the supply of electricity, including any other services.

The Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986

The rules of Environment protection came into force on 19th November 1986 and these rules provide for the following:

  1. The standards of quality of air, soil and water for various areas and purposes of environment.
  2. The standard set up to know about the limits of the environmental pollutants.
  3. Rules include the procedure and safeguards needed to handle the hazardous substance.
  4. Restrictions and some prohibitions on handling the hazardous substances in different areas and premise
  5. The procedures and safeguards required for the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and also the remedies for it.
  6. The prohibition and restrictions possessed on the location of industries in different areas.

Prevention, Abatement and Control of Environmental Pollution

Section 7  of the Environment Protection Act 1986 suggest that no person in the country shall be carrying any of the activity or operation in which there is a large emission of gases or other substances which may lead to excess environmental pollution.

Section 7 of the act provides certain standards that ought to be maintained in which it is a must that no person is allowed to damage the environment and if a person is found guilty for causing damage to the environment by polluting the pollution pay principle.

He can be asked for the ‘exemplary damages’ if he is found guilty of damaging the environment.

Section 8 provides that any person who is handling the hazardous substance needs to comply with the procedural safeguards.

If the emission is to a very large extent or is apprehended through an accident, the person responsible for it is obliged to mitigate from that place in order to reduce the environmental pollution.

He is also required to give an intimation to the higher authorities regarding the same and for that one receipt of remedies shall be required to prevent or to mitigate the environmental pollution.

In subsection (1), it is also provided that if a person wilfully delays or obstructs the person designated by the central government, he will be charged guilty under this act.

Procedure to be followed for the legal proceedings under the Environmental Protection Act

The following procedure needs to be followed for the legal proceedings.

  1. The notice must be delivered to the occupier or his agent and it must indicate the intention or the analysis of the issue of a particular case.
  2. Samples of the extent of pollution to be checked must be taken in the presence of the occupier or the agent.
  3. The sample should be sent directly to the laboratory without any delay in the process.
  4. The sample should be kept in a container with a label on it and it should have the signature of both the occupier party and the person taking the sample.

The central government must recognise at least one or two laboratories under this act and the report of analysis can be used as evidence of the facts stated in any procedure done under this act.

Penalty for  the Contravention of Rules and orders of this Act

As it was stated earlier that the most important goal of the environmental protection act is to provide for the punishment of the offence of endangering the human environment, safety and health.

Section 15 states that any person who is not complying to the provisions stated in this act and its failure or contravention will make him liable and punishable as the following:

  1. In terms of imprisonment up to the extension of the time span of five years.
  2. With fine which may extend to the term of one lakh rupee.
  3. Or the liable person has to deal with both of the punishments.
  4. If the contravention of the offence that continues for one year, the punishment can extend up to seven years.

Section 24  a provision that if any offence is punishable under the Environment Protection Act and also under other Act, then the person shall not be liable under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

This particular section reduces the punishment extent as other Act includes lesser punishment.

Offences by the Companies and the Governmental Departments

Section 16 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 explains the principle of vicarious liability of the Incharge person such as directors, Managers and secretary etc for if the offence is committed by any company.

He is not held liable for the following:

  1. If the offence is committed without his knowledge.
  2. If he has taken diligent care to prevent the commission of the offence.

Illustration: If any company which is emitting some hazardous substance out of its industry and is taking care of the standard level of the harm produced to the environment and if the offence committed by the industry is not in knowledge of person taking the liability, then the person will not stand as liable.

There cannot be a liability on his part if he proves the following.

  1. That the offence was committed without his knowledge.
  2. If he has exercised the diligent care to prevent the commission of any offence.

Who can make a complaint?

A complaint can be filed by two parties:

  1. The central government or any authority associated with the government.
  2. Any person who has given the notice of complaint within the term of sixty days of the alleged offence or the has the intention to make the complaint to governmental authority or the central government.

Bars to the jurisdiction

The Act has barred the civil court to entertain any proceedings in respect of any action taken by the central government. Most of the cases in India, pertaining to Environmental Law have to come before the courts in the form of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and can be filed in High Courts and Supreme Courts.


Though many other Acts related to Environment have been introduced to the Indian legislature but the Environment Protection Act, 1986 has been drafted to cover all the aspects and problems of environment and hence, it is said to be beneficial to understand the provisions related to an environment specifically.


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