Home Environment Air Pollution: A Legal Analysis for clear air

Air Pollution: A Legal Analysis for clear air

Environmental pollution is reaching worrying proportions worldwide. Urbanization and industrialization along with economic development have led to increase in energy consumption and waste discharges. The concept of inter-relatedness of global citizenship and a shared planet does not apply to only environmental issues but extends to the inter-linked responsibilities of human development and environmental protection. The global environmental pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions and acid deposition, as well as air pollution and waste management is considered as international public health problems. The most fundamental indicators of health hazard are air and water pollution, noise pollution, climate change, bad sanitation and loss of biodiversity. In India, this issue is of extraordinary importance  as a result of the way that the segment design in India shows a significant demographic pattern, indicates a major vulnerability of the population to toxic wastes and other harmful pollutants and high amount of exposure that women and children suffer in relation to environmentally hazardous substances.

Amongst the myriad environment concerns one of the persistent and pressing problems mankind is facing is lack of clean air and water and India is having worst environment among 132 countries according to Environment Performance Index. Of the most polluted cities in the world, 21 out of 30 were in India in 2019. As per a study based on 2019 data, at least 140 million people in India breathe air that is 10 times or more over the prescribed WHO safe limit and 13 of the world’s 20 cities with the highest annual levels of air pollution are in India. There are several factors degrading air quality of India. The 51% of pollution is caused by the industrial pollution, 27% by vehicles, 17% by crop burning and 5% by diwali fireworks. There are many more causes like burning of fossil fuels, indoor air pollution, green house gases etc. Over the past 30 years, researchers have unearthed a wide array of health effects which are believed to be associated with air pollution exposure. Among them are respiratory diseases (including asthma and changes in lung function), cardiovascular diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes (such as preterm birth), and even death are common. India is on the verge of facing a severe clean air crisis in a few years, not only because of the unchecked growth in population but also because  of industrial pollution issues which is mostly ignored and excluded from  deliberations.

Legal approach for the development of air-related legislation

The eagerness of the policy makers and environmentalist is well reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 under article 25(1) that ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family including food, clothing, housing and mental care, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstance beyond his control’. Then the Stock Holm declaration 1972, Rio declaration 1992 with their principles established various guidelines for every member countries to adopt proper legislation for air, water and environmental pollution which was indeed a serious problem. The Constitution of India has laid down a number of guidelines under part IV through the Directive Principles of State Policy to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to preserve the environment even while working on the social and economic development projects under Article 47, 48A, 51 A(g). Later this duties of the states were linked with the rights provided and hence with judicial pronouncement with passage of time the Right to Life under Article 21 was broadened considering right to clean and healthy environment as fundamental right.

In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the Apex Court has opined that the right to enjoy a pollution free environment is a facet of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. On December 3, 1984, the worst industrial accident in history occurred, the Bhopal gas tragedy where around 40 tons of Methyl Isocyanate gas mixed with other poisonous gasses from a chemical plant causing victims throats and eyes to burn, induced nausea. Those who were exposed to such toxic gas gave birth to physically and mentally disabled baby even after 30 years.The principle of absolute liability was used by the Supreme Court made the corporation pay compensation but  it is relatively small in comparison to the offence which has long term effect in the human existence of that place. Similarly in another case by Environmentalist MC Mehta, MC Mehta v. Union of India ( Taj Trapezium Matter) the court was of the  view that The Taj Mahal is a masterpiece and has international reputation. So, there won’t be compromise regarding its beauty and ordered closing down of 292 small and medium industries with an alternative to shift them out of Taj Trapezium zone.

The famous Vehicular pollution case, MC Mehta v. Union of India the apex court considered the matter of vehicular pollution in Delhi city and held that it is the duty of the government to see the air didn’t get contaminated due to vehicular pollution which is a infringement of Article 21 and basic human right. This case lead to lead free  petrol supply in Delhi, making it the World’s first city to have complete public transportation running on CNG. The famous 2002 writ petition filed in the case of Murali S. Doara v. Union of India, with regards to ban of smoking in public place  was discussed explicitly. In the attempt of protecting the health of non smokers, the court held that allowing smoking in public places will infringe the right to life under Article 21 of non smokers. The apex court directed the central government and other state governments and union territories to implement this ban in auditorium, hospital buildings, educational institutions, courts, public offices etc.

In India, a number of enactments are relevant for the control of air  pollution. The more important ones is the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. The Air Act is a very significant enactment passed by the Parliament under Article 253 of the constitution. This Act deals exclusively with the preservation of air quality and control of air pollution. It envisages the creation of Air Pollution Control Boards at  the Centre as well as in the states with power to issue and invoke licenses to polluting industries, enforce emission standards and to frame rules and regulations for the control of air pollution. This provision is completely based on the Precautionary Principle.


Selecting the topic of air pollution with respect to its impact on environment is really huge. Because of air pollution which people usually do not take seriously causes health hazards for human beings, animals and the mother Earth itself. The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries for food, clothing, shelter, jobs are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life.

The compliance with the directions of the Supreme Court has often remained lukewarm. Thus the need of the hour is a sincere effort on the part of the concerned authorities and other stakeholders to come forward with strict enforcement of pollution control measures. With recent records of the pollution rate it is seen that due to the lockdown phase in different countries for the pandemic Covid-19 , the environment is healing and clear pollution free skies are seen. Not only the human society but the impact of these environmental pollution leads to global warming, climate change and many other serious problems. It is time we do realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with the path the human race has embarked on and in the name of economic growth, political advantage and scientific development we have forgotten that it is indisputable that we are creations of nature and it is our duty to make protection of life the topmost priority in all spheres of human activity. It is an inconvenient truth that man has become the biggest enemy of the sustainability of our planet. Just like the natural world has fostered and supported us we need to start preserving our natural environment for ensuring the continuity of human society.

Sushree Saswati Mishra
I am Sushree Saswati Mishra, currently pursuing BA LLB (4th year) in KIIT School of Law. I am a criminal law honors student and wish to go for judicial services in the future. I have a passion for criminal law as I believe that criminal law is what makes the society is functional and my article is regarding air pollution and its governing laws in India. There are many lacunas and gap points in the law which actually creates a problem in its functionality. Hence here I have mentioned some of them



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