Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was enacted on 23 May, 1986 soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy which took place in 1984. The Act is considered umbrella legislation to protect and improve the environment. It empowers the Central Government to establish authorities to prevent environmental pollution and tackle specific environmental issues across India.


The EPA has its roots in the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, where India participated and committed to taking steps to protect the environment. The EPA aims to implement the decisions made at the Stockholm Conference. However, it was brought into force only after India saw a disastrous Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

Constitutional Basis

The Act was passed under Article 253 of the Constitution, which provides for legislation to give effect to international agreements. Environmental protection is also outlined in Articles 48A and 51A.

Key Provisions

Powers of Central Government

The Central Government can coordinate with states and take necessary measures to protect the environment. It can:

  • Plan and execute programs to control environmental pollution
  • Set standards for environmental quality and pollutant discharge limits
  • Restrict areas where certain industries can operate
  • It can also appoint officers, direct closure of polluting industries, restrict electricity/water supply, etc.
Compliance with Standards

Industries cannot discharge pollutants above prescribed limits. Handling of hazardous substances must comply with procedures and safeguards.

Inspection and Penalties

Designated officers can inspect industrial units to check compliance and examine equipment/records. Non-compliance attracts imprisonment up to 5 years and/or fines up to ₹100,000.

Establishment of Environmental Laboratories

Central Government can set up labs and recognize institutes as environmental labs. It can specify functions of such labs through rules.

Provisions for Water and Air Pollution Control

The Act has special provisions to control water and air pollution by regulating discharge of environmental pollutants, prohibiting certain industrial activities in specified areas, laying down standards for emissions and discharges etc. Separate Noise Pollution rules have also been framed under the Act.

Public Liability Insurance

The Act also introduced public liability insurance to provide immediate relief to persons affected by accidents involving hazardous substances. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is a comprehensive legislation formed to protect, conserve and improve the natural environment in India. Over the years, various amendments have expanded the scope and strength of the law in meeting its objectives.

Provisions for Restricting Pollution

The Act states that no individual or industry carrying out any operations shall discharge or emit environmental pollutants beyond prescribed standards. Under this, the Central Government has placed restrictions or prohibitions on location of industries in certain areas. These include fragile regions like the Doon Valley in Uttarakhand, Aravali Range in Alwar, Rajasthan, Coastal Regulation Zones, and other ecologically sensitive areas. The State Pollution Control Boards do not have authority to relax the stipulated timelines for compliance or pollution standards outlined by the Central Government.

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