The word environment originated from the French verb ‘environment’, which means to surround, surrounding, or something that surrounds. It refers to a definable place where an organism lives including both physical and biological features of the place. The relationship between the physical environment (soil, water, air) and organismal environment (plant and animal life) constitute the study of ecology. Sometimes the term microenvironment is also used, designating a functional environment, i.e., special environment of specific organism. Thus environment can be defined as: “Environment is the sum of all social, economical, biological, physical or chemical factors which constitute the surroundings of man who is both creator and moulder of his environment.”

The environment consists of three components:

  • biotic (living) components;
  • physical or abiotic components; and
  • Meteorological components.


It was in the year 1972 when the United Nations organised a conference on Human Environment at Stockholm. The first time the world leader discussed about environmental-related problems and set up the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In India, the government realised this problem in the Fourth Five Year Plan. A Committee on environment coordination was set up in 1972. Another committee was set up in January 1980 to review the existing legislative measures and administrative machinery for ensuring environmental protection, and above all recommending ways to strengthen them.

On its recommendation, the Department of Environment was set up in 1980 which was later upgraded to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the year 1985. It serves as a focal point in the administrative structure of planning, promotion and coordination of environmental and forestry programme.

Environmental problems in India are of two types:

  1. i) problems developed due to negative aspect of development; and
  2. ii) developed due to poverty and underdevelopment.


The central and the state government have been administrating around 30 principal enactments related to protection of environment. They are:

  • Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972;
  • Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  • Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  • Public Liability and Insurance Act 1991; and
  • Motor Vehicle Act, 19-38 as amended in 1988.

Ø   Environmental Protection Act, 1986

Environmental Protection Act, 1986 is landmark legislation in the country as it aims to protect the environment and find out loopholes in other related areas. The act empowers the government to coordinate and control the activities of state government regarding an environment and lay down standards, constitute the authorities to exercise the powers. It empowers the people to register a case to the court after a notice of 60 days. The Act provides stringent penalties for the law violators. The jurisdiction of civil courts is barred.

The government has done multiple things to legalise the Act. They are:

  1. i) issued rules and notified standards;
  2. ii) set up environmental laboratories;

iii)      strengthened state department of environment and pollution control board;

  1. iv) defined powers for the state; and
  2. v) Setup Environmental Monitoring Councils in the States.


The Ministry of Environment and Forests has announced a policy statement for the abatement of pollution. For pollution control, the policy advocates the adoption of the best available clean and practicable technologies rather than end-of-the-pipe treatment. The focus is on source reduction and substitution of chemicals with safe alternatives. The thrust, therefore, is on for considering process changes, which involve significant improvements in energy and water conservation. The Environment Action Programme has been formulated covering a wide range of subjects like clean and low waste technologies, improvement of water quality, institutional and human resources development, forestry and natural resources accounting. It is proposed to produce a computerized map of the critically polluted areas through digitization to provide thematic information on pollution status.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is the national apex “body for assessment monitoring and control of water and air pollution. Under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Minimum National Standards (MINAS) for effluents and emissions from specific industries have been formulated and control measures are being implemented in a phased manner. Heavily polluting industries have been identified namely, cement, thermal power plants, distilleries, sugar, fertilizers, iron and steel, oil refineries, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, pesticides, and tanneries, etc. The CPCB has identified 13 grossly polluted stretches of the rivers Sabarmati, Subernarekha, Godavari, Krishna, Indus (tributaries), Ganga (tributaries), Sutlej, Yamuna, Hindon, Chambal, Damodar, Gomati and Kali to formulate short-term result oriented programmes. The CPCB and SPCBs have identified 22 critically polluted areas in the country that need special attention. These are Vapi (Gujarat), Singrauli (UP), Korba, Ratlam, Nagoda (MP), Digboi (Assam), Talcher (Orissa), Bhadravati (Karnataka), Howrah (WB), Dhanbad (Bihar), Pali and Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Manali and North Arcot (TN), Visakhapatnam and Pataucheru (AP), Chembur (Maharashtra), Najafgarh (Delhi), Govindgarh (Punjab), Udyog Mandal (Kerala) and Parwanoo and Kala Amb (HP).

Ø   Unleaded Petrol

The government has, under the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, laid down mass emission norms for petrol and diesel driven vehicles which came into effect from 1 April, 1996. Unleaded petrol has been introduced in selected retail outlets of the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta from 1 April, 1995. Petrol with a maximum lead content of 0.15 g/1 has been introduced at all the retail outlets of these four metro cities since June, 1994.

The government has further decided to introduce unleaded petrol in all the state capitals/1 UTs shortly.

Ø   Eco-Mark

Products that are environmentally friendly will be ‘ labelled with an “Eco-Mark” label. Products have; been identified for labeling and standards for toilet soaps and detergents, paper, paints, architectural paints and laundry soaps have been notified for awarding this label.

Ø   Environment Audit

The government has made an annual environmental audit mandatory for all industries covered by the Water and Air Pollution Acts and the hazardous wastes handling Acts. Environmental audit is the procedure to analyze the use of natural resources by industry and also assess the impact of industrial operations on environment. A software package ‘Paryavaran’ along with a user manual, has been prepared for analysis of information submitted in the environmental statements of the industries and is being distributed to all the SPCBs.


The Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for the management and control of hazardous substances like chemicals, wastes and micro-organisms. The rules for control of hazardous substances, notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, are: (i) Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals, 1989; (ii) Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989; (iii) Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cell, 1989. A crisis management plan providing three tier system, i.e., establishment of crisis group at the central, state and district or local levels, has been worked out to meet chemical emergencies in units handling hazardous chemicals. A Public Liability Insurance Act has been enacted to provide immediate relief to the victims of accidents by hazardous chemical industries. The Ministry has constituted a National Waste Management Council to suggest ways and means for effective utilization of wastes generated in the country. The council has set up three sub-groups to deal with the major categories of wastes viz., industrial, urban and rural. They have been entrusted with the task of identifying wastes, suggesting technological action points including legislation, taxes and incentives. Special emphasis is being placed on promoting the use of fly ash in various fields. 15 sites have been identified in the country for preparation of secured landfills for disposal of wastes.

India is a signatory to the UNEP sponsored convention on control of trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes which has been adopted at Basel, Switzerland by 126 governments of the world in 1989.


The word pollution, having its origin in the Latin word pollutionem (means to defile or make dirty), is the act of polluting the environment. Environmental pollution is defined as the unfavourable alteration of our surroundings wholly as a by-product of man’s activities, through direct or indirect effects of changes in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the land, air or water that harmfully affect human life or any desirable living thing. Human population explosion, rapid industrialization, deforestation, unplanned urbanization, scientific and technological advancement, etc., are the major causes of environmental pollution.


Pollution may be classified in different ways as follows:

According to the Source: It may be classified as natural and artificial or manmade pollution.

Ø   Natural Pollution: Originates from natural processes or sources such as hydrocarbons in atmosphere, radiation pollution coming from the sun or radioactive materials found in nature, oxides of carbon, sulphur etc., coming out from volcanic activity.

Ø   Artificial or Man-made Pollution: It originates due to the activities of man such as lead aerosols in atmosphere coming from automobile exhaust, chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT, etc.) from excessive use of pesticides, etc.

According to type of Pollutants: Pollution may be classified according to the nature of pollutant. Pollutant is defined as anything, living or non-living or any physical agent (e.g., heat, sound, etc.) that in its excess makes any part of the environment undesirable. In general, the term pollutant is applied to non-living man-made substances or nuisances, and it refers to their being excess in a particular area. As per the Indian Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, a pollutant is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to the environment.

Classification of Pollution according to Type of Pollutant


 According to Environment Segment: Pollution may be classified according to the segment of environment (air, water, soil) in which it occurs, as follows:

  • Air Pollution, or Atmosphere pollution;
  • Water Pollution, or Hydrosphere pollution; and
  • Soil Pollution, or Land pollution.


Air pollution, according to the WHO, is the presence of materials in the air that are harmful to man and his environment. Air pollutants are mainly of two types: (i) gaseous pollutant like hydrocarbons, carbonmonoxide, carbondioxide, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, ozone, etc; (ii) particular pollutants like smoke, dust, mist, fume, spray, etc.

Ø Sources

  1. i) Industries pollutants like C02, sulphur- dioxide, carbonmonoxide, hydrogen sulphide, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorine, arsenic, etc.
  2. ii) Domestic pollutants from fossil fuels burnt by humans.

iii)      Automobile exhaust or vehicular emission.

  1. iv) Industrial accidents like leakage of chlorine gas from Sri Ram Fertilizers in Delhi, leakage of methyl isocyanate from the Union Carbide Plant at Bhopal etc.
  2. v) Suspended particulate matter (SPM) like fine dust particles and soot emitted by industrial units.

The WHO and UNEP, has identified six major pollutants in 20 mega cities of the world are sulphur dioxide (SO2), chiefly from power generation and industrial emissions, suspended particulate matter (SPM) from domestic fire, power generation and industries; lead (Pb).largely from petro-engine exhaust; carbonmonoxide (CO) also from motor vehicle; and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) due to heavy traffic and high levels of sunshine.

Ø Effects

  1. i) Carbonmonoxide having affinity with haemoglobin, when enters blood replaces oxygen from oxyhaemoglobin and thus increases concentration of C02 in blood causing headache, eye irritation, breathing problem and death.
  2. ii) Ozone, which also causes smog, is toxic to plant growth and harms human and animal health.

iii)      Carbondioxide released by burning of fossil fuel causes global warming.

  1. iv) SPM like asbestos dust causes lung diseases, lead causes nervous disorder and brain damage. Smog causes reduced visibility, eye irritation and plant damage.

Ø Remedies

Problem should be identified at regional and local levels and treated accordingly:

  1. i) Strict enforcement of pollution control laws.
  2. ii) Urban planners must, locate residential, commercial and industrial zones suitably.

iii)      Introduction of clean technologies.


Water, an essential component for our survival and the most important ecological factor present; everywhere, has also been extensively polluted over the years.

Ø Sources

  1. i) Domestic sewage
  2. ii) Industrial waste

iii)      Chemical inputs of agriculture

  1. iv) Elevated temperatures.

Ø Fresh water pollution is mainly due to:

  1. i) excess of nutrients from sewage and soil erosion causing algae blooms;
  2. ii) pathogens from sewage which spread disease;

iii)      heavy metals and organic compounds that bioaccumulate in aquatic organisms.

Ø Effects

  1. i) Increased water treatment costs
  2. ii) Spread of epidemics like cholera, jaundice, dysentery, typhoid, gastroenteritis, etc.

iii)      Metals like mercury, copper, zinc, lead, etc and their oxides from industrial waste cause nervous disorder.

  1. iv) Release of dyes, etc., into water sources and their use by humans and animals affect biological processes.

Ø Remedies

  1. i) Input control or pollutants should be I prevented from being generated in the first place.
  2. ii) Output control – it attempts to control the; pollutant and/or its effect it has been produced.

iii)      Developing of proper sewage system can reduce incoming point source of pollution.

  1. iv) Extensive afforestation can help in minimizing non-point sources of pollution.
  2. v) Strict enforcement of pollution control laws.
  3. vi) Discharge of drinking water after primary and secondary treatment of water using chlorinator unit.


The National Water Development Agency established in 1982 by the Ministry of Water Resources, has formulated a National Perspective Plan for water resources development. It envisages interlinking between various peninsular rivers and Himalayan rivers for transfer of water from surplus basins to water deficit basins. The Agency has completed pre-feasibility studies of all the 17 water transfer links under the peninsular rivers development component and 14 water transfer links under Himalayan rivers development component. Feasibility studies of 5 water transfer links have also been completed.

  • To promote rain water harvesting through Watershed Management Programme, artificial recharge of ground water, and roof-top rain water harvesting.
  • To recharge artificial ground water.
  • To complete the ongoing irrigation projects started by the State government.


The pollution causes for land pollution are:

  1. i) Solid and liquid wastes by the paper and pulp mills, oil refineries, power plants, etc.
  2. ii) Use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.

iii)  Domestic waste

  1. iv) Solid erosion due to deforestation, wrong “farming practices, shifting cultivation, high velocity of winds, water flow etc.


Noise is an unpleasant sound or sound without value. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, recognized noise pollution as an offence. Noise pollution also figures in the Indian Penal Code, Motor Vehicle Act, 1939 and Industries Act, ~1951. Despite all this, the problem of noise pollution has not been tackled.

The intensity level of sound is measured in decibel (dB) scale. It is considered that noise levels below 80 dB (A) do not produce any ill effects. However, higher levels often cause impairment of hearing. Exposure to noise levels exceeding 75 dB (A) for more than eight hours daily can impair hearing. Other effects are stress, hypertension, fatigue, sleep disturbances, speech interference, irritability.

Industrial noise can be controlled by using sound absorbing materials. Workers should be provided ear muffs and protectors. Their working hours should be so adjusted that they are not exposed to high level of noise. Audiometric tests must be done annually.


Radiation pollution is mainly due to naturally occurring radiations and man-made radiations. Man, throughout his evolution, has been exposed to low levels of ionizing radiations from natural sources. However, it was only after Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1896andCurie’sisoiationof radium that exposure level increased. Exposure to high level of radiations can destroy living tissues. Radiations are known to cause cancer, genetic damage, and mutations.

Government measures to control pollution

  • The Government has taken various steps to control pollution in the country, They are:
  • Emission standards have been notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • The ambient air quality is monitored regularly through a network of 290 monitoring stations under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme.
  •  Industries are required to take consents from the respective State Pollution Control Boards under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 as amended in 1987.
  •  A number of hazardous and polluting industrial units have been closed down.
  • Emission standards for on-road vehicles and mass emission standards for new vehicles have been notified under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and are enforced by Transport Departments of the State Governments.
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is supplied for automobiles through a number of retail outlets in Delhi and Mumbai to cater to the CNG fitted vehicles.
  • Low sulphur fuel (0.50% maximum sulphur) has been introduced in the National Capital Region w.e.f. 1.4.2000.
  • More than 8 years old diesel buses and all pre 1990 autos and taxies have been taken off the road.
  • Government has constituted Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Authority for National Capital Region for periodic monitoring of the implementation of action points and priority measures enlisted in the White on Pollution in Delhi and for taking appropriate measures for control of pollution in National Capital Region.


Central Ganga Authority: The Central Ganga Authority (CGA) was set up in 1985 to oversee the implementation of Ganga Action Plan drawn up for cleaning polluted stretches of river Ganga. A steering committee has identified different schemes to be taken up in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal through which the river runs. A monitoring committee monitors the progress of the schemes and their input on the river quality.

Ganga Action Plan: The Ganga Action Plan proposes to divert the sewage flowing into the river I to other locations for treatment and conversion into valuable energy sources. The schemes identified for this purpose include: renovation of existing trunk rivers, to prevent overflow of sewage into the Ganga, construction of interceptions to divert the flow of sewage and other liquid wastes into the river, and renovation and construction of pumping station and sewage treatment plants to recover maximum possible resources. Smaller schemes such as construction of community toilets, conversion of dry toilets to flush toilets, constru-ction of electric crematoria, development of river Ghats and modernization of solid waste management system, have also been taken up to reduce domestic waste load on the Ganga. The second phase of Ganga Action Plan is proposed to be taken up as a centrally sponsored scheme with equal contribution from the centre and the concerned state governments and Yamuna and Gomati Action Plans have been approved under the phase at an estimated cost of Rs.421 crore.

National Rivers Action Plan: An approach paper on National Rivers Action Plan (NRAP) has been approved at an estimated outlay of Rs. 1000 crore spread over a period of 10 years. The NRAP includes grossly polluted stretches of those rivers of the country not covered under both the phase of the Ganga Action Plan. The NRAP is to be renamed as the National Rivers Conservation Plan (NRCP).

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