Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981: An Overview

Air Pollution and Pollutants

Earth has been whimpering for more than 50 years now. What was meant to be our safe home has now turned into a suffocating prey fettered by industries, garbage, pollutants, deforestation, etc.  Air pollution is one of the greatest scourges for this Earth. It not only impacts climate change but is also deeply responsible for degrading public and individual health due to increased morbidity and mortality. [1]“Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air that are detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole” and [2] Pollutants are the contaminants that get introduced into the natural environment, beyond permitted limits, and cause deleterious effects to the inhabitants in a visible way.” [3]

Pollutants such as Particulate Matter (PM), nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), dioxins, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are particles of variable but very small diameter, they penetrate the respiratory system via inhalation, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, reproductive and central nervous system dysfunctions, and cancer. Even the ozone layer, which is 9 to 18 miles above the Earth, has become prey to human gluttony and torment.

The Montreal Protocol signed in 1991 by various counties is aimed at salvaging the ozone layer.  When exposed at large, Carbon Monoxide can cause poisoning by inhibiting your body to consume oxygen. Diseases occurring from the aforementioned substances include principally respiratory problems such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, bronchiolitis, and also lung cancer, cardiovascular events, central nervous system dysfunctions, and cutaneous diseases.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

Air pollution and Climate Change go hand in hand. The pollutants such as methane, black carbon, and aerosols affect the amount of incoming sunlight. As a result, the temperature of the planet has been increasing year by year leading to the melting of icebergs, glaciers, heat strokes, etc. Climate Change also upsets the geographical distribution of many infectious diseases as well as natural disasters.

Causes of Air Pollution[4]

1. Urbanization and Industrialisation: they have been the two main factors for the profound deterioration of India’s air quality.

2. Population rise: The continuously snowballing population of India and their perpetual needs and wants.

3. Vehicular Pollution: Increase in the number of vehicles leading to an increase in the release of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.

4. Reduced wind speed: High-speed wind is very effective in dispersing the pollutants but during winters there comes a dip in the speed of the air which makes aggravates the situation.

5. Stubble Burning: the stubble burning in the regions of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan has gained wide criticism for causing a thick blanket of smog during winters.

6. Firecrackers: The irresponsible and reckless use of firecrackers not only during Diwali but also during other celebrations like winning the World Cup, has played a major role in exaggerating the air pollution.

7. Other causes: burning of fossil fuels, Deforestation, Soil erosion, and most importantly ineffective environmental regulations are all the major contributing elements to air pollution. Smog and Smoot make the visibility blurry and causes burning sensation in the eyes. All these particles are never completely eradicated from the air, they remain settled in the air for years and years.

Judicial Approach in Air Pollution Related Cases[5]

The Supreme Court has been adorned with the sobriquet “Green Court” for contributing to the evolution of environmental jurisprudence in India.

Through Article 32 and Article 226, SC and HC have entertained numerous PILs on environmental degradation due to air pollution. They have used Article 21 of the Constitution of India and expanded the meaning of the word “life” in that Article to include a “Right to a Healthy Environment”

In Sachidanand Pandey vs. State of West Bengal[6], the Apex court mandated for the court to give utmost importance to ecological problems. The court should work in accordance with Article 48A and Article 51(g) of the Constitution. “When the Court is called upon to give effect to the Directive Principles and the fundamental duty, the Court is not to shrug its shoulders and say that priorities are a matter of policy and so it is a matter for the policy-making authority.”

In Damodar Rao Vs S.O, Municipal Corp[7], held that the slow poisoning by the polluted atmosphere caused by environmental pollution and spoliation should also be regarded as amounting to the violation of Article 21 of Indian Constitution”

In Subhash Kumar Vs. The State of Bihar[8], the apex court held that the Right to life includes the “Right to enjoy pollution-free Water and Air”. If anyone or anything endangers or impairs the quality of life, every citizen has the right to excess their fundamental remedies under Article 32 and Article 226 for the removal or cleaning of the pollutant.

Similarly, in M.C.Mehta Vs. Union of India[9], the issue of Vehicular pollution came before the court in the context of Article 47 and Article 48 of the Constitution. The Apex Court held that it was the duty of the government to keep a check that the air was not contaminated by vehicular pollution. “Right to Clean Air” stemmed from Article 21.

In Virendra Gaur Vs. The State of Haryana[10], the Apex Court held that “The word environment is of a broad spectrum which brings within its ambit hygienic atmosphere and ecological balance. It is, therefore, not only the duty of the State but also the duty of every citizen to maintain a hygienic environment.”

Under the ambit of Article 21, the Supreme Court has facilitated the emergence of environmental jurisprudence in India, while also strengthening human rights jurisprudence. Through various judgments and decisions, the Right to a clean and unpolluted environment has been given the status of inalienable human and fundamental rights. Apart from the cases mentioned above, there is a string of cases based on ecological issues which have provided the citizens a wider range of remedies.

World Air Quality Report 2020[11]

The report is prepared by Swiss Organisation IQAir, which mentions that out of the 30 most polluted cities globally, 22 are from India.

The report assesses PM 2.5 aggregation in 106 counties. The Swiss organization follows the guidelines released by the WHO air quality guidelines and United States AQI to prepare its report.

World Capital City Ranking:

Delhi has achieved the tremendous accomplishment of being the number one polluted capital city globally, followed by Dhaka and Ulaanbaatar.

World Country Ranking:

India holds the third position for being the worst polluted country in the world, preceded by Pakistan and Bangladesh as 2nd and 1st respectively.

World City Ranking:

Hotan (China) is the most polluted city in the world followed by Ghaziabad (India). Also, out of the 15 most polluted cities in South Asia, 14 places have seen dominance by India.

This report is evidence that India needs to take rigorous actions immediately to reduce air pollution. Effective rules and their mandatory implementation are the need of the hour. Not only the government but every citizen should rise and save Mother Earth.

In this blog post we shall discuss The Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981. The Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981 was enacted by the Government of India on 29th March 1981

The Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981

This Act was enacted by the Government of India to implement the decisions taken at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. The Act is also called the Air Act. The main interest of the Act is to ameliorate air quality and prevent abate, and control air pollution.

Chapter I: Short Titles and Definitions.

Section 1(2) says that the Act shall apply to the whole of India.

Section 2(a) defines the term “air pollutant” as any solid, liquid, or gaseous substance [13][(including noise)] present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment;

Section 2(b) defines “air pollution” as the presence in the atmosphere of any air pollutant

Section 2(g) of the Act also set up the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) whose powers extended to the whole of India to carry out the directives of the CPCB. This Act also called for the setting up of the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) for every states of India.

Chapter II: Central and State Boards for the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution.

Section 3 of this Act permits the Central Pollution Control Board which was earlier established under Section 3 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (6 of 1974), to exercise its power for the prevention of Air Pollution under this Act.

Similarly, Section 4 permits State Pollution Control Boards constituted under Section 4 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (6 of 1974) to act as “State Boards” under this 1981 Act.

Section 5(1) permits the state who either has or has not constituted a State Pollution Control Board under the 1974 Act, to constitute a “State Board” for the Prevention and Control of Air, to exercise the powers conferred on, and perform the functions assigned to, that Board under this Act. States not having water pollution boards were required to set up air pollution boards.

Composition and Constitution of Members:

Section 5(2) enumerated the members of this “State Board”:

  1. A full-time chairman who is expected to have knowledge and experience in environmental protection.
  2. 5 Members, who are officials or representatives of the State Government.
  3. 5 members of local authorities, decentralized in the State.
  4. Not more than 3 non-officials nominated by the State government, who will represent their interests (Agriculture, fishery, industry, or trade).
  5. A full-time member-Secretary, having knowledge and experience of scientific, engineering, or management aspects of pollution control, to be appointed by the State Government.[14]

Section 6 states that no State Board shall be constituted for Union Territories rather the Central Board shall directly handle Union Territories affairs.

Term (Section 7):

The term of all the members (except the member-Secretary) is 3 years, which is subjected to terms and conditions mentioned in Section 5.

Grounds for Disqualification (Section 8):

A member can be disqualified on the following grounds –

  1. He/She has been adjudged insolvent
  2. He/She is of Unsound mind
  3. He/She has been convicted of an offense
  4. He/She has abused his position against the public interest
  5. He/She has been involved directly or indirectly in the business of manufacturing equipment meant for improving the air quality or for abating the air pollution
  6. He/SHe holds any office of profit in any firm, business, or company involved in improving the air quality or for abating the air pollution
  7. He/She has abused his position at the State Board.

Section 10 mandates for the Board to meet at least once every three months.

Chapter III: Functions and Powers of the Boards (Central and the State)

Section 16 of the Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981 enumerated the functions of the Central Board which are briefed as follows:

  1. To improve the quality of air and to prevent, control, or abate air pollution in the country.
  2. To advise Central Government/ State Governments on matters relating to control and prevention of air Pollution. To plan and execute air pollution control schemes.
  3. To collaborate and resolve issues between State boards.
  4. To provide technical and financial assistance and undertake researches and investigations to prevent Air pollution.
  5. To train volunteers to be engaged in pollution control programs.
  6. To organize programs through mass media (to create awareness).
  7. To collect and publish statistical data and analysis and prepare manuals and guides to disseminate information, for instance, about sewage management.
  8. To establish or recognize laboratory/laboratories for bolstering the Central Board to perform its functions smoothly.
  9. To lay down the minimum permissible amount of discharge in streams, considering its tolerance and weather dilution levels.

Section 17 of the Act enumerates the functions of the State Board which are briefed as follows:

  1. To plan and execute the programme for control and abatement of air pollution.
  2. To advise State Govt of the same.
  3. To raise air pollution awareness.
  4. To collaborate with Central Board to help find and train volunteers to be engaged in pollution control and educational programs.
  5. To keep a check on every industrial plant or manufacturing unit that could be harmful and provide directions to the same for prevention of any such activity that may degrade the quality of air.
  6. To scrutinize the air pollution control areas continually.
  7. To collaborate with the Central Board to lay down the different standards for emission from any source.

Section 18 dictates that the Central Board will be bound by the directions of the Central Government whereas the State Board will be bound by the direction of the Central Board or in cases State Government can directly give instructions to the State Board. However, if such directions by the State Government are found to be inconsistent with the direction given by the Central Board, the matter shall be referred to the Central Government for its decision.

Chapter IV: Prevention and Control of Air Pollution

Section 19 of the Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981 sanctions the State Government to collaborate and take the opinion of the State Board to declare, alter, merge or divide any area as/of “Air Pollution Control Area”. Under this Act the State Government can also declare the burning of any particular fuel, which has reasonable allegations for being harmful, to be banned, after consultation with the State Board.

Section 21 of the Act prohibited any person to, without the previous consent of the State Board, establish or operate any “Industrial Plant” in an air pollution control area. However, any industrial plant operating in any air pollution control area immediately before the commencement of Section 9 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Act, 1987 requires no prior permission of the State Board.

Section 23 directs the person in charge of the premise of the plant or the area from where the emission of any air pollutant into the atmosphere in excess of the standards laid down by the State Board occurs or is apprehended to occur due to accident or other unforeseen act or event, to “furnish the State Board with all the necessary information regarding this situation”.

On receipt of information with respect to the fact or the apprehension of any occurrence of nature, the State Board and the authorities or agencies shall, as early as practicable, cause such “remedial measures” to be taken as are necessary to mitigate the emission of such air pollutants.

Section 24. Permits any person empowered by the State Board to enter and inspect any place to-

  1. Perform the function of the State Board entrusted to him
  2. Examine and test any control equipment, industrial plant, record, register, document, or any other material object;
  3. For conducting a search of any place in which he has reason to believe that an offense under this Act has been or is being or is about to be committed.
  4. And for seizing any such control equipment, industrial plant, record, register, document or other material objects if he has reasons to believe that it may furnish evidence of the commission of an offense punishable under this Act or the rules made thereunder.

Section 24(3) states that If any person wilfully delays or obstructs any person empowered by the State Board in the discharge of his duties, he shall be guilty of an offense under this Act.

Section 25 Empowers the State Board or any officer to call for any information regarding the types and level of air pollutants being released into the atmosphere from the occupier or any other person carrying on any control equipment or industrial plant. To cross-check and verify the authenticity of the information provided State Board shall have the right to inspect the premises where such industry, control equipment, or industrial plant is being carried on or operated.

Section 26 confers power upon officers to survey, and record the characteristics of the air or emissions by “collecting samples”. Samples shall be collected in presence of an Occupier or his agent, who shall act as a witness as well as seal and mark the samples. Any omission by the occupier in the discharge of his duties can hold him liable under this Act. Only after following the entire procedure under Section 26 sub-Section (3) & (4) of the Act, can the sample be presented in any legal proceedings as a piece of evidence.

Section 28 lays down the provisions for the establishment of one or more State Air Laboratories, where these samples shall be analyzed.

Section 31 lays down the instructions for an aggrieved person who is not in concurrence with the orders of the State Board, to file a complaint within thirty days from the issuance of that order to an Appellant Authority. The Appellate Authority shall consist of a single person or three persons as the State Government may think fit to be appointed by the State Government. After giving locus standi to the State Board the authority has the right to give the best judgment.

Chapter V: Funds, Accounts, and Audit.

Section 32 directs The Central Government to make “financial contributions” to the State Boards as it may think necessary to enable the State Boards to perform their functions under this Act. Section 33 allows State Boards to set their respective State funds.

Section 33A[15] allows State Government to “borrow money” from any source by way of loans or issue of bonds, debentures, or such other instruments to discharge all or any of the board’s functions under this Act

Section 34 mandates The Central Board as well as the State Board to prepare, a “budget” in respect of the financial year next showing the estimated receipt and expenditure.

Similarly, Section 35 mandates the Central as well as the State Board to prepare an “annual report” of all their activities, investments, expenditure, revenue, etc in the financial year.

Chapter VI: Penalties and Procedure.

Section 37 (1) Imprisonment for a term not less than 1 year and 6 months and not more than 6 years with fine (additional fine of Rs. 5000/- per day) for failure to comply with the order issued under Section 21 or Section 22 or with the directions issued under Section 31A. Imprisonment for a term, not less than 2 years and not more than 7 years with a fine for the continuance of failure to comply for one year.

Section 38 lists down penalties for other acts, with imprisonment for a term up to 3 months or with a fine up to Rs. 10,000/- or both (as follows):

  1. Destruction, removal, etc. of a post or pillar or other matter put up by the Board.
  2. Obstruction of an authorized person carrying out his functions under the act.
  3. Damage to property of the Board.
  4. Failure to report information to the officer under the act
  5. Failure to report accidents to the authorities.
  6. Giving false material information knowingly to the authorities (to obtain consent).

Section 40 says that every person in charge at the time of the commission of the offense or every employee/ employer who consented to it or acted negligently will be liable to be proceeded against.

Chapter VII: Miscellaneous.

Section 47: Power of State Government to supersede State Board

At any time if the State Government is of the opinion that the State Board made default in the performance of the functions or such circumstances exist which render it necessary in the public interest to do so, the State Government may supersede the State Board for a period, not exceeding six months. Nevertheless, the State Government shall give locus standi to the State Board to give their reasons it should not be.

If the State government finds the arguments presented by the State Board irrelevant and the supersession occurs then,

(a) all the members of the State Board will have to vacate their offices

(b) all the powers, functions, and duties which were being exercised, performed, or discharged by the State Board shall now come under the disposal of State Government until a fresh State Board is reconstituted under sub-Section.

(c) similarly, all property that was owned or controlled by the State Board shall now vest with the State Government.

After the expiration of 6 months, State Government has the discretion to either extend the time period of the suppression, for not more than another six months or reconstitute a fresh State Board through fresh nominations and selections. The previously State Board members shall also be eligible for nomination and appointment in the new State Board.


Air is the most basic and indispensable element for the survival of every living creature on Earth. It’s high time now that not only India but also all the countries globally start planning and implementing effective Air Acts and Laws before it’s too late. The countries should work shoulder to shoulder to reduce Air pollution; developed countries should provide assistance to the developing countries to ameliorate the condition of air in their respective nations. Countries should provide support to The UN Framework for Climate Change which aims to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through international cooperation and agreement to bring emissions to a level that that can offset the effects of global warming and climate change. Multilateral International agreements and treaties such as the Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol, and Montreal Protocol should be given utmost importance and should be worked hard upon.

Every nation, and especially India, while planning any laws for the control, prevention, and abatement of air pollution should strategize its execution and implementation properly and stringently, otherwise in the end nothing shall matter much.




[4] Dr. Vikas Divyakriti. Drishti Publications. Current Affairs Today. M.P.Printers, Noida


[6] AIR 1987 SC 1965

[7] AIR 1987 AP 171

[8] 1991 AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1) 5

[9]1998(6) SCC 60 and 1998(9) SCC 589

[10] (1994) SCC 577



[13] . Ins. by Act 47 of 1987, s. 2 (w.e.f. 1-4-1988)

[14] Subs. by Act 47 of 1987, s. 4, for clause (f) (w.e.f. 1-4-1988)

[15] Ins. by s. 16, ibid. (w.e.f. 1-4-1988)

This article has been written by Nandini Varshney, B.A. LL.B (Hon) student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.

Also Read – Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) : An Overview

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