The awareness and consideration for environment covers several environmental issues such as pollution of water, air and soil, land degradation, industrialisation, urbanisation, depletion of natural resources etc.


Environmental Law plays a very crucial and important role in regulating the use of natural resources and in protecting the environment. The success of environmental legislations mainly depends on the way they are enforced. Legislation also serves as a valuable tool for educating masses about their responsibility in maintaining healthy environment. 

Numerous legislations have already been put forth at national and international levels. In this lesson, you will learn about some important environmental legislation. Indian legislations are called Acts whereas the international legislations are in the form of conventions, protocols and treaties.

Need for legislation
In the recent past, numerous environmental problems have become threatening for human welfare. An important aspect of environmental problems is that their impact is not confined to the source area but spills over far and wide area. Effective legislation is needed in order to prevent misuse and degradation of the environment.

To curb the destructive practices of unscrupulous people, forest mafia groups, poachers, polluters and over exploitation of environmental resources, effective legislation is necessary. Pollution is an important factor and it does not observe political territories or legislative jurisdictions. Thus environmental problems are intrinsically global in nature. Therefore, to prevent such problems environmental legislation is not needed only at the national level but also at the international level.

Legislation at national level
At national level serious efforts have been made for the improvement and protection of environment by incorporating changes the constitution of India. Our constitution, originally, did not contain any direct provision regarding the protection of natural environment. However, after the United Nations Conference on Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, Indian constitution was amended to include protection of the environment as a constitutional mandate.

The forty second amendment Clause (g) to Article 51A of the Indian constitution made it a fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment. “It shall to be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and have compassion for living creatures.”

There is a directive, given to the State as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy regarding the protection and improvement of the environment. Article 48A states “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

The department of Environment was established in India in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country. This later became the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1985. This Ministry has overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental legislations and policies. The constitutional provisions are backed by a number of legislations – Acts and rules. Most of our environmental legislations are Acts of the Parliament or the State Legislatures.

These Acts generally delegate powers to regulating agencies, to make rules for the purpose of their implementation. The Environment Protection Act of 1986 (EPA) came into force soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and is considered umbrella legislation as it fills many lacunae in the existing legislations. 

Thereafter, a large number of environmental legislations have been passed to deal with specific environmental problems. For example in the recent past the use of CNG for public transport vehicles has been made mandatory in Delhi. This has reduced air pollution in Delhi.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and Amendment, 1988 The main objective of this act is to provide prevention and control of water pollution and maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness and purity of water (in the streams or wells or on land). Some important provisions of this Act are given below:
  • The Act vests regulatory authority in State Pollution Control Boards and empowers these Boards to establish and enforce effluent standards for factories discharging pollutants into water bodies. A Central Pollution Control Board performs the same functions for Union Territories and formulates policies and coordinates activities of different State Boards.
  • The State Pollution Control Boards control sewage and industrial effluent discharges by approving, rejecting or impose conditions while granting consent to discharge.
  • The Act grants power to the Board to ensure compliance with the Act by including the power of entry for examination, testing of equipment and other purposes and power to take the sample for the purpose of analysis of water from any stream or well or sample of any sewage or trade effluents.
  • Prior to its amendment in 1988, enforcement under the Water Act was achieved through criminal prosecutions initiated by the Boards, and through applications to magistrates for injunctions to restrain polluters. The 1988 amendment strengthened the Act’s implementation the pollution provisions. Board may close a defaulting industrial plant or withdraw its supply of power or water by an administrative order; the penalties are more stringent, and a citizen’s suit provision supports the enforcement machinery.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act of 1977
The Water Cess Act was passed to generate financial resources to meet expenses of the Central and State Pollution Boards. The Act creates economic incentives for pollution control and requires local authorities and certain designated industries to pay a cess (tax)