Businesses, small or big, can’t shy away from environmental compliance

By Subir Ghosh|9th Jun 2015
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For a business to keep operating legally, the process is not as easy as it may sound. Businesses must comply with a number of requirements regarding the company’s transactions, labour practices, safety procedures and environmental obligations. Compliance regulations can be internal or external, with environmental compliance being of the latter kind. What is unfortunately true in India is that most businesses, especially smaller ones, don’t have the faintest clue about what actually constitutes environmental compliance.

The starting point, obviously, is in the Constitution, which says that it is the duty of the State to “protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” It imposes a duty on every citizen “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife.” Even the Directive Principles of State Policy, as well as Fundamental Rights, references the environment. The Department of Environment was established in India in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country, and, in 1985, became the Ministry of Environment and Forests.


The constitutional provisions are backed by a number of laws – acts, rules and notifications.


  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 authorises the Union government to protect and improve environmental quality, control and reduce pollution from all sources, and prohibit or restrict the setting and/or operation of any industrial facility on environmental grounds.
  • The Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 lay down procedures for setting standards of emission or discharge of environmental pollutants.
  • The Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 is meant to control the generation, collection, treatment, import, storage and handling of hazardous waste.
  • The Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Rules, 1989 define the terms used in this context, and sets up an authority to inspect, once a year, the industrial activity connected with hazardous chemicals and isolated storage facilities.
  • The Manufacture, Use, Import, Export, and Storage of hazardous Micro-organisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells Rules, 1989 were introduced with a view to protect the environment, nature and health, in connection with the application of gene technology and microorganisms.
  •  The Public Liability Insurance Act and Rules and Amendment, 1992 provide for public liability insurance for the purpose of providing immediate relief to the persons affected by accident while handling any hazardous substance.
  • The National Environmental Tribunal Act, 1995 awards compensation for damages to persons, property and the environment arising from any activity involving hazardous substances.
  • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 was created to hear appeals with respect to restrictions of areas in which classes of industries are carried out or subject to certain safeguards under the EPA.
  • The Biomedical waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998 is a legal binding process on health care institutions to streamline the process of proper handling of hospital waste such as segregation, disposal, collection and treatment.
  • The Environment (Siting for Industrial Projects) Rules, 1999 have detailed provisions relating to areas to be avoided for siting of industries, precautionary measures to be taken for site selecting and also the aspects of environmental protection that should have been incorporated during the implementation of the industrial development projects.
  • The Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 apply to every municipal authority responsible for the collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of municipal solid wastes.
  • The Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 are meant to regulate production and consumption of ozone depleting substances.
  • The Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 rules applies to every manufacturer, importer, re-conditioner, assembler, dealer, auctioneer, consumer and bulk consumer involved in the manufacture, processing, sale, purchase and use of batteries or components so as to regulate and ensure the environmentally safe disposal of used batteries.
  • The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) (Amendment) Rules, 2002 lay down the terms and conditions necessary to reduce noise pollution, permit use of loud speakers or public address systems during night hours (between 10:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight) on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 provides for the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and knowledge associated with it

Forest and wildlife

  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Amendment, 1984, are among the oldest surviving colonial statutes. The Act was enacted to “consolidate the law related to forest, the transit of forest produce, and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.”
  • The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Rules 1973 and Amendment 2010 provide for the protection of birds and animals and for all matters that are connected to it, whether it be their habitat or the waterhole or the forests that sustain them.
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Rules, 1981, provide for the protection of and the conservation of the forests.


  • The Easement Act, 1882 allows private rights to use a resource like groundwater by viewing it as an attachment to the land. It also states that all surface water belongs to the state and is a state property.
  • The Indian Fisheries Act, 1897 establishes two sets of penal offences whereby the government can sue any person who uses dynamite or other explosive substance in any way (whether coastal or inland) with intent to catch or destroy any fish or poisonous fish in order to kill.
  • The River Boards Act, 1956 enables the states to enroll the central government in setting up an Advisory River Board to resolve issues in inter-state cooperation.
  • The Merchant Shipping Act, 1970 aims to deal with waste arising from ships along the coastal areas within a specified radius.
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 establishes an institutional structure for preventing and abating water pollution. It establishes standards for water quality and effluent. Polluting industries must seek permission to discharge waste into effluent bodies. The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) was constituted under this act.
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 provides for the levy and collection of cess or fees on water consuming industries and local authorities.
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules, 1978 contains the standard definitions and indicate the kind of and location of meters that every consumer of water is required to affix.
  • The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991 puts regulations on various activities, including construction, are regulated. It gives some protection to the backwaters and estuaries.


  • The Factories Act, 1948 and Amendment in 1987 were the first to express concern for the working environment of the workers. The amendment of 1987 has sharpened its environmental focus and expanded its application to hazardous processes.
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 provides for the control and abatement of air pollution. It entrusts the power of enforcing this act to the CPCB.
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1982 define the procedures of the meetings of the Boards and the powers entrusted to them.
  • The Atomic Energy Act, 1982 deals with radioactive waste.
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Act, 1987 empowers the central and state pollution control boards to meet with grave emergencies of air pollution.
  • The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 states that all hazardous waste is to be properly packaged, labelled, and transported.

Businesses, like individual citizens, are constitutionally obligated to protect the environment, and they are just as much legally obligated to ensure that they adhere to environmental laws.

Agreed, going through all the laws and ascertaining whether one is complying with every single regulation is not easy. This write-up simply tells you that it’s not an easy task.

But the task can be made easier: we’ll look at that next week.

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