Introduction to Environmental Protection Act, 1986

Mr. Lexi owns a fertilizer company and received a notice from Arjun, a government representative that he will be visiting to collect the factory waste samples for analysis.
Mr. Lexi contacts his lawyer Priya and asks her to explain the basic environment law in India and his rights and responsibilities in an inspection.


Why does the environment need to be protected?
With the continuous race for economic advancement, human activities have been threatening the environment for a long time.
Without a healthy environment, it will be impossible to sustain the quality of life and other resources on earth. Protecting the environment is not a mere suggestion, it is compulsory by law.
What are the objectives of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986?
● To create an authority by which government can protect the environment
● To make and apply laws for environmental protection in general
● Create contingency plans for severe disasters and hazards related to the environment
● To follow the principles discussed in the Stockholm conference and work towards true sustainable development
● Punish those who deviate from the law as an example for other to stay on the right path
● To bring the activities and objectives of various environment regulatory authorities under one umbrella for enforcement
What was discussed in the Stockholm Conference? How is it important?
● The Stockholm Conference of 1972 discussed the role of human beings in the environment
● It is also called the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
● It is in this conference that the importance of the natural environment and the need to protect it came to light
● The concept of sustainable development was discussed, where it was thought important to develop in the present in such a way that our future generations can still enjoy natural resources and a healthy environment to develop themselves
● After the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984 in India where the leakage of a hazardous toxic gas led to widespread loss of life and devastation, the principles discussed in the Stockholm Conference were taken more seriously
● The combination of these events led to the formation of the Environment Protection Act.

Overview of rights and responsibilities under the Act

Salient features of the Indian Environmental Protection Act, 1986
  • The subjects covered by the Act are:
    1. Air Pollution
    2. Water Pollution
    3. Noise Pollution &
    4. Soil/Land Pollution
  • The Central Government has some general powers like (chap 2):
    1. To lay down standards and limits till which some pollutants can be emitted into the atmosphere
    2. To put restrictions on which areas industries can operate in
    3. To research into and present information related to environmental pollution in the country
    4. To lay down protocols and remedies
    5. Setting up laboratories to analyse various environment related samples
  • The Act also contains provisions like:
    1. Preventing, Abatement & Control of Environment Pollution (chap 3)
    2. Penalties for contravening the provisions of the Act (S.15, 24)
    3. Vicarious Liability of Companies & Govt. Departments (S.16)
    4. Procedure for legal proceedings (S.19)
What are offences under the Act?

(S.7) Not adhering to Standards: Emitting or discharging pollutants beyond the levels allowed by the government for the particular industry, process or operation
(S.8) Not adhering to Safety Procedures: If Safeguards are prescribed for the handling of certain substances, they must be compulsorily followed

What are the penalties for contravening provisions of the Environment Protection Act or its Rules?

(S.15) Up to 1 Year of Default: For each default,
○ up to 5 years of imprisonment
○ With fine up to 1 lakh rupees
○ Or with both
○ And 5000 rupees for each day of continuing default after being convicted for it.
Beyond 1 Year:
○ Imprisonment for up to 7 years

Who will be liable in case of offense committed by a company or the government?

(S.16) Company: Every person directly responsible for the conduct of the business will be held liable along with the company and punished
○ However, if the offense was committed after all precautions have been taken and done without the knowledge of the persons, they may be exempted.
○ Any manager or director proven to have allowed the offense will also be proceeded against
(S.17) Government: The Head of the Department responsible for the offense will be held liable and proceeded against as per the Act
○ The HOD will be exempted if he proves he took all precautions to avoid such an offense.
○ Any other officer whose neglect led to the offense will also be liable.

How would a legal proceeding take place in accordance with the EPA?
➔ Sample Analysis
○ There must be a notice given to the person occupying the place involved in the offense (or his/her agent)
○ The Samples which are thought to be against the law must be taken in the presence of the occupier or agent
○ The samples must be sent for analysis directly to the laboratories set up under the Act without delay
○ There must be signatures of the occupier and person who collected the sample on the sealed and labelled box containing the sample

➔ Court will hear the matter if:
○ Complaint is made by the Central Government or an authority/officer authorized by the Government
○ If a person has given a notice to the Government, authority or officer at least 60 days prior, with his intention to make a complaint

In A Nutshell

It is extremely important to protect the natural environment from which humans derive their resources

  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986 lays down general rules, rights and responsibilities regarding air, water, soil and noise pollution
  • The Central Government has powers to make further rules in accordance with the Act apart from the powers it already possesses like:
  • ○ Power to enter and inspect areas
    ○ Power to require documentation necessary for inspections
    ○ Power to take samples and send for analysis
    ○ Power to prescribe standards for pollutants, industries, organizations and processes
    ○ Power to make certain protocols and safeguards mandatory

  • Not adhering to the standards and protocols prescribed by the government, and not cooperating in inspections will attract liabilities under the EPA
  • The liabilities could extend for up to 5 years or up to 7 years of imprisonment with a fine of up to 1 lakh and with an additional 5000 Rs. fine for each day of continuing the default.

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