• Legis Scriptor

The emergence of Environmental Legislation

Authored by Tanya Singh


Environmental legislation is collection of laws and regulations related to water, air, soil and other environmental factors. The tree of environmental legislation covers many laws and regulations, and all work together for a common goal for how to protect the environment. Its interaction between the world and natural world to reduce the threat of environment and to increase public health. So, an environmental law depends upon everything from the air we inhale to the natural resources we rely on a plants and animals.

According to Section 2(a) of the Indian Environment (Protection) Act, 19861, the term Environment‖ includes water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property. Environment includes all the essential and necessary elements for the survival and for the existence of life and living and non living creatures.

Laws and Policies

Even after independence, the governments were never serious about putting environmental laws in place, and therefore after 20 years of independence, there was no legislation that was effective on controlling environmental degradations. However, the following laws were framed after the Stockholm Declaration:

1. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

2. The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

4. The Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991

7. The National Environment Tribunals Act, 1995

8. The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997

9. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002

10. Coastal Zone Regulation Notification

There was a marked shift in the environmental issues and policies were skewed towards protecting the environment. The following steps underline the processes in every five year plan thereafter:

1. 4th Five Year Plan, 1972 – National Committee on Environmental Planning and Coordination was formed

2. 5th Five Year Plan, 1974 – Minimum Needs Program was formed

3. 6th Five Year Plan, 1980 – Environment and Development Measures Emphasized

4. 7th Five Year Plan, 1985 – Emphasize Sustainable Development with Environment

5. 8th Five Year Plan, 1992 – Environment moved to fourth category of subjects

6. 9th Five Year Plan, 1997 – Emphasis on growth with social justice and equity

In nineties, there have been many steps taken by different governments at the state as well as at national levels, to provide legal and institutional basis for management and protection of environment by ways of rules, notification of standards, delegations of powers, identification of agencies for hazardous chemical management and setting up of environment councils in many of the states.

Coastal Zone Regulations were issued in 1991; in 1994, the Central Ministry of Environment issued a notification for making Environmental Impact Assessment mandatory for 29 different activities in Industry, Mining, Irrigation, Power, etc. the Central Government enacted the Prevention and Control of Pollution (Uniform Consent Procedure) Rules, 1999, requiring all industries listed in Schedule VIII of the Environment Act, 1986 to obtain consent from the State Board or the Pollution Control Committee.

Delegated Legislations

In 1999, recycled plastics were banned. In 2000, Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules were framed, in respect of collection, segregation, transportation, storage and disposal of commonly handled municipal wastes. The Battery (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, provide for specific categories of batteries, battery wastes, etc. and apply also applied to manufacturers, importers, reconditioners, assemblers, dealers which are involved in manufacturing, processing, sale and purchase of batteries.

The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, prescribe ambient air quality standards in respect of noise for industrial, commercial and residential areas. The same year saw the enactment of Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules in which the producers, users, dealers engaged in manufacture/use of CFC’s, Helium, CCl4 etc. are required to compulsorily register under the rules with statutory authorities.

Precautionary Principle came into being between 1972 and 1982, according to which, where there are threats of irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty cannot be used as a reason to postpone cost effective measures or to prevent environmental degradation. This is well explained in the case of A.P. Pollution Control Board V Professor M.V. Nayudu2. The key ingredients of this are that statutory authorities must participate to prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation; scientific certainty should be there; putting the onus of proof on the assailant; and merely suspicion is not enough to constitute a penal action.

In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India3 the Supreme Court stated that “in cases pertaining to the environment, the onus of proof is on the person who wants to change the status quo and, therefore, it is for the respondents to satisfy the Court that there will be no environmental degradation”

Polluter Pays Principle says that the polluter must pay for the environmental losses, for which he alone is responsible and has share of contribution towards causing degradation to the environment. Under the principle, if the Govt. shares the entire burden of correcting the losses, then it ultimately passes on to the taxpayer, which is wrong way to handle it. Thus in M.C Mehta vs. UOI [Calcutta Tanneries Case]4, the state government appointed an authority and handed it the task of assessment and restoration cost estimates of Ganga water pollution. The polluters were further directed to pay a polluters fine, the proceeds of which were used in building up an environment protection fund.

Under these above principles, some more legislations were formed, e.g., The Water (Control and Prevention of Pollution) Cess Act of 1977 helped meet the expenses of water boards at state and central levels. While the act created incentives for those who saved water pollutions, it also put a heavy fine on the polluters, and utilizes those fines in pollution control measures. The revenues were used to implement the Water Act. In Kamalnath Case5 the Apex Court said that ones who pollute the environment may pay the reverse damage caused by his acts.

India is already a signatory to Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), 1976, under which the export and import of endangered species or their body parts is governed by certain conditions and rules.


India has, since the departure of the Britishers, been a very active proponent of different environmental protections inside its territory, and outside. It has been settled that unless we protect the environment we cannot survive. Through some landmark judgments, the courts have been very stringent especially in issues like ozone depletion, environmental pollution and wildlife conservation issues. Recently there have been changes in local by laws in some of the cities of India, regarding stoppage of any house construction which does not a 5% catchment area. This itself indicates a positive shift in the mindset of the people of India towards conservation of natural resources. We are a country that has frequently been ravaged with floods, and earthquakes, and protection and conservation of environment and natural resources alone can be the savior. Foot Notes:- 1. Indiankanoon

2. 1992 (2) SCC 718

3. 15 March, 2005

4. 1997 (2) SCC 411

5. 1997 (1) SCC 308


Bare Acts

· Environment Laws

Books Referred

· Dr. S.C. Shastri “the Environmental Laws” 13 Edition

· Dr. Sukanta K. Nanda “ Environmental Law” 10 edition

Website Referred