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Early Environmental Legislation

India employs a range of regulatory instruments to preserve and protect its natural resources. It was the first country to insert an amendment into its Constitution allowing the State to protect and improve the environment for safeguarding public health, forests and wild life. A Survey of the early environmental legislations indicate the nature and levels of governmental awareness towards environmental issues. The Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act of 1853, was one of the earliest laws concerning water pollution, authorized the collector of land revenue in Bombay to order removal of any nuisance below the high - water mark in Bombay harbors. In 1857, an attempt was made to regulate the pollution produced by the oriental Gas Company by imposing fines on the Company and giving a right of compensation to anyone whose water was ‘fouled’ by the company’s discharges. 

The country has had a long history of environmentalism with the passage and codification of acts such as the Indian Penal Code of 1860, The Indian Easements Act of 1882, The Fisheries Act of 1897, The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act of 1905, The Indian Motor Vehicle Act, The Factories Act, The Indian Forest Act, The Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, The Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, The Forest (Conservation) Act, The Merchant Shipping Act.

The Indian Penal Code, passed in 1860, penalizes person(s) responsible for causing defilement of water of a public spring or reservoir with imprisonment or fines. In addition, the code also penalized negligent acts with poisonous substances that endangered life or caused injury . 

The Indian Easements Act of 1882 protected riparian owners against ‘unreasonable’ pollution by upstream users. The Indian Fisheries Act of 1897 penalized the killing of fish by poisoning water and by using explosives. The Indian Forest Act was a product of British rule in 1927. The legislation granted the government uncontested rights over natural resources, with state governments authorized to grant licenses to lumber contractors and oversee protection of the forests. 

Legislative provisions regulating the discharge of oil into port waters and prohibiting the poisoning of water in forests were also enacted prior to independence. Two early post-independence laws touched on water pollution. Section 12 of the Factories Act of 1948 required all factories to make effective arrangements’ for waste disposal and empowered state governments to frame rules implementing this directive. As a result, a number of states passed versions of the Factory Act, including Uttar Pradesh in 1950, Tamil Nadu in 1950, West Bengal in 1958, Maharashtra in 1963 and Mysore in 1969. Each tailored the Act to suit its particular situation. In Uttar Pradesh, disposal of effluents had to have the approval of the state’s Effluents Board. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling entity with similar responsibilities was the Director of Fisheries. In Maharashtra, local authorities were granted with jurisdiction in such matters. Second, river boards, established under the River Boards Act of 1956 for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys, were empowered to prevent water pollution. In both these laws, prevention of water pollution was only incidental to the principal objective of the enactment. 

During the 1950’s and early 1960’s marked the Constitution permitting the state to control water-related issues, several states had taken steps on water protection. Laws passed included The Orissa River Pollution Act of 1953, The Punjab State Tube well Act of 1954, West Bengal Notification No. 7 Regulation - Control of Water Pollution Act of 1957, Jammu and Kashmir State Canal and Drainage Act of 1963 and The Maharashtra Water Pollution Prevention Act of 1969. 


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