An overview of Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981

An overview of Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981


Since mankind came to the knowledge that their actions may be affecting nature in a not too a good way, humans had started studying concepts like Climate Change, Deforestation, and Pollution – concepts, that helped built the base of Environmental law to protect nature itself from the exploitation of greedy humans.

Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981 is one such Act based on Indian environmental laws that were enacted to protect not only nature but also allot accountability to the ones causing pollution so that it could be deterred and prevented in the future. This Act has over fifty sections and works as a comprehensive legislature that establishes Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at the apex level and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) at the state level.

The CPCB helps to plan and implement nationwide programs for prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution and also advises the Central Government regarding any matter concerning the improvement of air quality in the nation. Meanwhile, the SPCB does the same towards the State Governments with the technical support from CPCB.

Both these Boards set the standard for air quality of the nation and/or states and the Act empowers them to declare pollution control areas, restriction on certain industrial areas, etc. They also have the authority to conduct checks and inspections regarding the emission of air pollution in any industry, going as far as the ability to take samples and test them for the results.

Objectives of Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981

The main objectives of this acts are simple:

  • To prevent, control and abate the pollution of air in the nation as well as its states;
  • To establish Boards at the Central and State level to implement the Act;
  • To establish the power to the Boards to implement the Act and perform functions as well as arrange programs according to it.

This Act causes the Boards to not only monitor the quality of air in the nation but also monitor the industrial dense areas for heavy emission and hold them accountable while trying to lessen the emission in the future.

Central and State Boards under Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981

In a nutshell, this Act is inspired by the Water (prevention and control of Pollution) Act, 1974; thus, this resulted in the Central as well as the State Boards for Water Pollution Act be same as this Air Pollution Act – specifically for those States that have that Boards already established if we go according to the Section 3 and Section 5 of Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, respectively.

Constitution of Boards

As for the constitution of these Boards, if there are no Boards for Water or Air Act in a State, then the following are the people that are to be constituted under such a Board:

  • A Chairman, who is nominated by the State Government and has special knowledge or practical experience in the field of environmental protection;
  • A few numbers of officials (not more than five), who are nominated by the State Government to represent that government;
  • A few numbers of non-officials (not more than three), who are nominated by the State Government to represent the field of agriculture, fishery, labor, or other industries that the State may think needs to be represented;
  • Two people who are nominated by the State Government as a representative of any two companies or industries owned by the State Government;
  • Full-time secretary, appointed by the State Government for their knowledge and experience in scientific, engineering, or management aspects of air pollution.

Functions of the Boards

The basic function of both the Boards is to implement the aforementioned Act to control and prevent air pollution in the nation. Beyond that, the functions differ in the following manner:

Central Board

According to Section 16 of this act, the functions of the Central Board are:

  • To advise the Central Govt on any activity relating to the quality of air;
  • To provide guidance and technical help to the State Boards;
  • To co-ordinate the activities of the State Boards;
  • To prescribe the standard of Air quality;
  • To train and aware people about air pollution and how to prevent it;
  • To plan and implement nationwide programs for the prevention and control of Air pollution.

State Boards

According to Section 17 of this act, the functions of the State Boards are:

  • To advise the State Govt on any activity relating to the quality of air;
  • To lay down the emission standards with the approval of the Central Board;
  • To train, aware, plan and execute programs for air pollution control;
  • To collect information, inspect the area, and give sustainable directions for the prevention and control of air pollution;
  • To advise the State Govt on the sustainability of any location for an industry emitting air pollutants;
  • To set up laboratories for the analysis and checking of samples collected from various industries.

Power of the Boards

Section 19 to Section 31 of this Act establishes powers allotted to the Boards for the execution of their functions. These powers include:

  • Section 19: To declare new air pollution control areas or alter an already existing one.
  • Section 20: To give instructions for maintaining the standards of emission from vehicles.
  • Section 21: Restrict use of any specific Industrial Plant based on its pollutant emission. Based on that, the State Board has the power to give necessary consent for any industry to be established in an air pollution control area.
  • Section 22: To make industries/plants comply with prescribed standards given by the State Boards.
  • Section 22-A: To make an application to the Court for restraining person(s) from causing pollution when they are apprehended for a violation of the emission standards prescribed by the State Boards.
  • Section 24: To enter and inspect the grounds of any plant or industry to perform the duties prescribed under this Act. The State Boards may authorize any person specifically for this duty.
  • Section 25: To obtain or seek information regarding anything related to the emission of pollutants from any person occupying the plant.
  • Section 26: To take samples of air from the ducts, chimney, or any other outlet of the plant and conduct procedures.
  • Section 31: Any person unjustifiably aggrieved by any order of the State Board can file an appeal by the appellate authority for their compensation within the 30 days of the order being announced.
  • Section 31-A: To give directions or authorize any person under the State Boards to perform the duties allotted to them to execute the functions of the Boards prescribed by this Act.

Penalties and Procedures under Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981

Section 37 to Section 41 of this Act allots the penalties and punishments for those who fail to comply with Section 21, 22, or directions issued under Section 31 of this Act.

Under Section 37, any person who fails to comply with Section 21 and Section 22 of this Act shall be punishable with an imprisonment of no less than 1 year and 6 months which can extend up to 6 years with the fine of 5000 rupees every day if it still keeps on continuing.

Meanwhile, Section 38 lays down the penalty for any person who damages any work/property of the Boards or fails to inform violation of standards or makes a false statement/furnishes false information to obtain consent from the Boards, who shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend up to 3 months and/or a fine of 10,000 rupees.

In addition to that, Section 39 of this act prescribes penalty for any order or direction that has not been provided with a penalty in this Act, which shall be punishable with imprisonment that may extend up to 3 months and/or a fine of 10,000 rupees. And in case of the continuation of such violations, a fine of 5000 rupees shall be imposed every day.

However, Section 40 and 41 deals with the penalties for the offenses committed by companies. Section 40 of this act states that any person who was directly in charge of the company during the violation shall be liable to the conduct of the company and would be punished accordingly; deeming that the company, according to this act, is defined as any corporate body that includes a firm or associations of several individuals. Section 41, meanwhile, talks about governmental departments or companies and states that the head of the department or the officer responsible by consent shall be held liable in such a case.

Case Laws

  • C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1986 – Taj Trapezium Case
  • C. Mehta v. Union of India – Vehicular Pollution Case


  • Bare Act of Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981
  • Shyam Diwan & Armin Rosencranz, ‘Environmental Law and Policy in India’, Oxford University Press
  • Krishan Keshav, ‘Law and Environment’, Singhal Law Publications

Author: Debapriya Biswas,
Amity Law School, Noida (2nd year)

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