Introduction to Air Act

Pollution is the undesirable toxic contaminants mixed in the environment and creates changes that directly or indirectly leave adverse effects on the lives of human beings, animals, and plants. The same is the situation with Air Pollution, which refers to releasing pollutants into the air. Pollution affects everyone, whether rich or poor, old or young, human or animal, but the effect varies, and so are solutions.

Air Pollution in India is increasing at an alarming rate in India. The rate is so high that it is becoming challenging to reduce the pollution even after taking steps to curb it. And thus, the government of India enacted the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981.

Air pollution refers to physical, chemical or biological changes in the quality of air. It can be seen as air contamination by harmful gases, dust and smoke that drastically affects plants, animals and humans.


As defined under Section 2(b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act , 1981, Air Pollution means ‘the presence in the atmosphere of any air pollutant.’Air Pollutant as described under Section 2(a) the Air Act 1981 means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance that includes noise present in the atmosphere in such concentration harmful to a human being or other living creature or environment.


Air Pollutant gets divided into two parts:

Primary Pollutant

Primary Pollutants are pollutants that directly cause air pollution. For example, sulphur dioxide gets emitted from factories.

Secondary Pollutant

Secondary Pollutants are those pollutants formed by intermingling and reaction of primary pollutants. For example, smog gets formed by intermingling fog and smoke.


Following are more sources of air pollution:

  • Burning of Fossil Fuel: Burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, gasoline to produce electricity or transportation emit vast amounts of sulphur dioxide. Carbon monoxide that gets released by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels also results in air pollution.
  • Automobile: Not even a single person can deny that vehicles are the primary cause of pollution, especially in urban areas. A vehicle emits various harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxide, as harmful as smoking ten cigarettes a day.
  • Agricultural Activities: Agricultural activities are a significant source of air pollution, especially pesticides and fertilisers; these get spread on the crops for their rapid growth of crops and vegetation; once sprayed, such chemicals mix with the air and water, thus polluting them.
  • Factories and Industries: Factories and Industries generally emit carbon monoxide, organic compounds, hydrocarbons and chemicals; such gases, when released into the air, degrade the air quality.
  • Mining Activities: In the process of mining, the minerals below earth get extracted using large equipment, dust and chemicals released at the time of mining pollute the air, but also deteriorate the health of the workers and people living near the nearby area.
  • Domestic Air Pollution: Inadequate ventilation, uneven temperature, humidity level causes domestic air pollution in India. Besides mentioned causes mentioned, smoking, the smell of paint etc., can also cause domestic pollution.
  • Wildfires: Wildfires or Forest fires get caused due to climate change. Burning stubble and farm residual contribute to the wildfire, which increases PM2.5 in the air that collides with harmful substances like chemicals, gas and pollen, creating smog that makes the air hazy.
  • Construction and Demolition: The highest number of air pollution complaints recorded by the Central Pollution Control Board during the Clean Air Movement due to the pollution caused by construction and demolition activities.
  • Use of Chemical and Synthetic Products: Compounds found in paints, cleaners and personal care products, all such chemicals cause a lot of air pollution that affects the public’s health.


The Air Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) Act, 1981, also popularly known as the Air Act, 1981, was enacted to prevent, control and abatement of air pollution and the burden to fulfil such purpose lies on the Boards established under the Act.


The need for the Air Act arose after the Stockholm Conference held by the suggestion of the United Nations, which suggested that there was a need for the global conference to discuss and prevent pollution and degradation of natural resources. Therefore, with the suggestion of the United Nations, The United Nations Conference on Human Environment was held in Stockholm in June 1972.

It was decided in the conference that the Countries would undertake steps to preserve natural resources, which also include Air.

As India was also a signatory to the Stockholm Conference, the Indian government enacted laws under Article 253 of India’s Constitution to preserve natural resources. The law passed for air preservation was the Air (Prevention and Control of Air Pollution) Act, 1981.

SCOPE OF Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act

The Act applies to the whole of India, that contains definitions that fall under the act.


Section 3 and Section 4 of the Air Act provide that appropriate powers and functions are given to the Central and State Board, and the powers should get exercised so that it is not misused.


Chapter III and IV of the Air Act provides the powers and functions of the Central and State Board.


Section 16 of the Air Act lays down the functions of the Central Board:

  • Under the act, the board shall make efforts to prevent, abatement and control air pollution in the country and may advise the Central Government regarding related matters,
  • A nationwide programme to be planned and implemented for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and a training programme.
  • Coordinate with states and resolve the issues related to the dispute that arises between them.
  • Carry out research and investigation in the matters related to air pollution and also help the board in case of technicalities.
  • Help combat Air pollution with mass media programmes.
  • Lay down standards for the air quality and perform other functions as prescribed.
  • Collect, compile and publish statistical data relating to air pollution.
  • Setting up of laboratories to help the board to perform its functions effectively.


Section 17 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act lays down functions that the State Pollution Control Board should perform:

  • The state board shall plan and implement prevention, control, or abatement programmes and advise the State Government on air pollution.
  • Organise training and mass awareness programmes regarding air pollution control, prevention and reduction.
  • Inspect air pollution control equipment, industrial plants or manufacturing processes and give orders to the in-charge to curb air pollution.
  • Inspect and assess the quality of air at designated air pollution control areas.
  • Lay down the standard for the emission of air pollutants into the atmosphere from automobiles or industries.
  • The State Board should advise the State Government regarding the suitability of the location to set up any industry.
  • Setting the laboratories to help the board to perform its functions effectively.

Powers of the Board Under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act

The powers given to the board under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act include:

  • Power to give direction (Section 18)
  • Power to declare air pollution areas (Section 19)
  • Power to give restriction for ensuring standards for emission from automobiles (Section 20)
  • Restriction on use of certain industrial plants (Section 21)
  • Persons carrying on industry etc., are not to allow emission of air pollutants above the standard laid down by the State Board. (Section 22)
  • Furnishing information to State Board and other agencies in some instances (Section 23)
  • Power of entry and inspection (Section 24)
  • Power to obtain information (Section 25)
  • Power to take samples from air or emission (Section 26)


Following are the effects of Air Pollution in India:

  • Diseases: Air Pollution results in various respiratory disorders and heart diseases among humans. Lung cancer cases have rapidly increased in recent years, and children living in polluted areas are prone to pneumonia and asthma. The number of deaths from air pollution has increased.
  • Global Warming: Global Warming gets caused due to the emission of greenhouse gases that cause an imbalance in the gaseous air composition, which increases the temperature on earth.
  • Acid Rain: When fossil fuels get burnt, they release harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air; the water droplets combine with the pollutants. It becomes acidic and falls into acid rain that damages humans and animals plant life.
  • Ozone Layer Depletion: The ozone layer is depleting due to the release of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere that creates whole in the ozone layer. Due to such depletion of the ozone layer, ultraviolet rays directly reach humans, thus causing skin diseases and eye problems.


  • Avoid Using Vehicles: People should avoid using private vehicles while travelling instead of using public transport to travel from one place to another, preventing pollution and conserving resources.
  • Energy Conservation: Turning off lights and fans when not in use will help in saving energy. Avoid using Air conditioners, as it takes a lot of energy and emits a lot of heat which is bad for the environment and also, one should use fluorescent lights to save the environment.
  • Reduction of Forest Fire and Smoking: Collection of garbage and setting it on fire in dry seasons or dry leaves that catches fire for causing air pollution; other than this, smoking also increases air pollution and causes air pollution and worsen the quality of air.
  • Using Filters for Chimney: The gas emitted from the fireplace in homes and factories harms the environment and severely decreases air quality. The filters should get used to avoiding such damage in case the consumption cannot get reduced.
  • Avoid Using Crackers: Avoid crackers as they contribute a lot to pollution and form a layer of smog that harms health.
  • Aforestation: Trees are the best source to control air pollution and other pollution and control degradation of the environment.


M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Vehicular Pollution Case)

A writ petition was filed by M.C. Mehta, requesting the court to pass appropriate orders to reduce vehicular pollution in Delhi, seeing the increasing pollution from vehicles.

The Supreme Court held that the Constitution of India recognises the importance of the protection of the environment, flora, fauna, life under Article 51and Directive Principles of State Policy provided under the Constitution of India. Thus, it becomes the duty of the State and individuals. They use automobiles to protect the environment and at least have a fair idea of the harmful effects of the environment due to emissions caused by vehicles.

A committee was set up with the objective to:

  • To evaluate the technologies available for vehicular pollution control in the world.
  • To evaluate the current status of the technology available in India to control vehicular pollution.
  • To find out low-cost alternatives for operating vehicles at reduced pollution levels in metropolitan cities of India.
  • To evaluate measures to reduce pollution from motor vehicles, both short- and long-term, and make appropriate recommendations related to the issue.

The committee got ordered to make a report within two months and mention the steps taken.

M. C. Mehta v. Union of India (Taj Trapezium Case)

M. C. Mehta filed the writ petition and the report on “Environment Impact of Mathura Refinery” prepared by the Varadarajan committee, indicating the pollution sources.

In this case, the old Mughal Monument Taj Mahal was in question that was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. When M.C. Mehta, the environmentalist and Public Interest Lawyer who visited the Taj Mahal in 1984, found it turning yellow due to the rising pollution caused by the nearby industries thus, he filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

The petitioner stated that the monument was degrading due to the chemical industries, refineries, and foundries. Various gases like sulphur dioxide mix with oxygen mix and cause acid rain; due to such rains, the monument turned yellow. There were black and brown spots on the marble.

The Supreme Court held that the industries that cannot obtain gas connections should stop functioning in the Taj Trapezium Zone and relocate themselves. The Hon’ble Court added that 292 industries should change to natural gas as an industrial fuel and shift themselves.


The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act dealing with air pollution in India is quite strict. It deals with almost every aspect related to air pollution. It provides powers and functions of central and state boards to check emission limits and take appropriate action to curb air pollution in India. So, now is the need to enforce such laws with strict implementation.

It highly gets required that the government, both central and state take steps to control air pollution, prevent the environment from being spoiled and take necessary steps to solve environmental issues.


Which Section of the Air Act set up Central and State Boards?

Section 2(f) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 set up the Central and State Boards.

Which board has the power to deal with the cases related to the Union Territories?

Section 6 of the Air Act vests to deal with Union Territory cases or delegate them to the Central Board. Central Board, in this case, can exercise the power of the State Board.

Which chapter of the Air Act provides the Penalties and Procedures to get followed under the Air Act?

Chapter VI of the Air Act provides penalties and procedures to be followed in cases related to matters under the Air Act under Section 37 to Section 46.

When did the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act come into Force?

The Act came into force on 16th May 1981.

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