The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986


The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, provides for the protection and improvement of the environment, and for ‘matters connected therewith’.

The environment includes water, air and land, and the relationship between water, air and land, human beings, other living creatures, plants and microorganisms. The Act defines an environmental pollutant as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in a concentration which may be, or tend to be, injurious to the environment. Environmental pollution means the presence of such a pollutant in the environment.

The government of India enacted this law according to decisions taken to protect the human environment at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June, 1972. The Act was passed on May 23, 1986, and it extends to the whole of India.


  1. What powers does the central government hold under this Act?

    The Act stipulates that the central government shall have the power to take measures to protect and improve environmental conditions, and for the ‘control and abatement’ of environmental pollution.

    This includes planning and executing a nationwide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of pollution; laying down standards for the quality of various aspects of the environment, and for the emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from different sources; restricting or regulating industrial and other activities in certain areas; stipulating procedures to prevent accidents which may cause environmental pollution; examining manufacturing processes, materials and substances likely to cause environmental pollution; undertaking and sponsoring investigations and research related to environmental pollution; inspecting any premises, plant, machinery, materials or substances, and manufacturing or other processes, for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution; establishing or recognising laboratories and institutes to carry out the provisions of this Act; and preparing manuals or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of pollution.

    The central government may – as it thinks fit – appoint officers to carry out the provisions of this Act. The government may issue instructions to any person, officer or authority, for closing, prohibiting or regulating any industry, operation or process. It may also instruct persons, officers or authorities to stop or regulate the supply of electricity, water or other services for any such activity.

    The central government may – through a notification in The Gazette of India – make rules about the standards or quality of air, water or soil for various areas and purposes; the maximum limits of concentration of various environmental pollutants in different areas; the prohibition, restriction or procedure for handling hazardous substances; the prohibitions or restrictions on the location of industries, processes and operations; the procedure for preventing accidents that could cause environmental pollution and for providing for remedial measures for such accidents.

  2. What does the Act say about the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution?

    It prohibits industries and other operations from allowing the emission or discharge of environmental pollutants in excess of the standards prescribed under the Act. Similarly, persons handling hazardous substances must do so as per the procedure specified in the Act.

    Where environmental pollutants are emitted or discharged in excess of the prescribed standards due to any accident or event, the person responsible and the person in charge of the place at which such an event occurs, shall be bound to prevent or mitigate the environmental pollution caused. Such persons shall inform the government about any such occurrence, and be bound to render assistance required by the authorities under this Act.

    The Act empowers authorised persons – appointed by the central government – to enter any premises at all ‘reasonable’ times for carrying out the Act’s provisions. They shall have the power to take samples of air, water, soil or any other substance in any premises, for testing.

  3. What are the Act’s offenses and penalties?

    Anyone who contravenes any of the Act’s provisions shall be punishable with imprisonment for up to five years, or a fine of Rs. 100,000, or both. If a person continues to contravene the provisions of this Act after being convicted for the same, they shall have to pay a fine of up to Rs. 5,000 for every day that the contravention continues. If such contravention extends for over a year beyond the date of the first conviction, they shall be punishable with imprisonment for up to seven years.

    If an offense under this Act has been committed by a company, the company and every person who was directly in charge or responsible to the company when the offence was committed, shall be deemed guilty and be liable to be proceeded against accordingly. Such persons shall not be liable to punishment under this Act if they prove that the offence was committed without their knowledge, or that they exercised due diligence to prevent the offense from occurring.

    Focus and Factoids by Jinson George Chacko.


Ministry of Law and Justice 


Government of India, New Delhi


23 May, 1986