Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Need for Amending and Updating the 1981 Air Act

In its present form, India’s Air Act does not mention or prioritise the importance of reducing the health impact of rising pollution. This is the first change that a new law on air pollution should bring.
By IASToppers
November 06, 2019


  • Context
  • IT’s Input
    • Sources of Air Pollution
    • Factors of Air Pollution in India
    • Comparison with other countries
  • Problems with Air Act, 1981
  • Suggested amendments to the Air Act, 1981 by the author:
  • Benefits of Changes in Legislation
  • Conclusion

Need for Amending and Updating the 1981 Air Act

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  • Air pollution is a major public health concern and impacts everyone. It affects all be children, men, women or elderly.

Delhi`s Air Quality

  • Currently Delhi`s Air Quality Index has crossed 500. The city has entered the public health emergency category. This has also made Delhi the most polluted city in the world.
  • According to the Centre for Science and Environment, air pollution kills an average 8.5 out of every 10,000 children in India before they turn five. Similarly, the WHO in 2016 reported that pollution has led to the deaths of over 1 lakh children in India. At a holistic level, several international studies have affirmed that life expectancy in India has declined by two to three years

IT’s Input:

Sources of Air Pollution:

Multiple factors contribute towards Air Pollution.


  • Industrial and Vehicular emissions,
  • Stubble burning.
  • construction dust,
  • and other factors related to household consumption and municipal planning.

Factors of Air Pollution in India:

Factors of Air Pollution in India

Comparison with other countries:

  • 22 out of the world`s 30 polluted cities in the world are in India.
  • When compared with our neighbors
    • Pakistan has two cities.
    • China has 5 cities
    • and Bangladesh has one.
  • On the Environmental Performance Index India was in the bottom five, ranked 177th out of 180.

Problems with Air Act, 1981

  • Pollution control boards are unable to fulfill their mandate because of many loopholes present in the law. Moreover, pollution control boards cannot levy penalties.
  • The Air Act, 1981 does not priorities adverse impacts of pollution on human health.
  • Lack of enforcing accountability, deterrence and compliance of industries.
  • Compliance with environmental laws results in additional financial burden to industries
  • Lack of convergence of actions and intent among Central and State agencies.

Suggested amendments to the Air Act, 1981 by the author:

Amendments to legislation would ensure actions by Central and State Governments.

Air Act, 1981 by the author

Benefits of Changes in Legislation:

Global examples suggest that public health and economic progress can go together.

  • For example, The United States, passed the Clean Air Act. Through one legislation US has challenged multiple sources of pollution, airborne or motor vehicle-led. Additionally, it has also helped in reduction of aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants in the USA by an average of 73 per cent from 1970 to 2017.
  • Similarly, China was able to reduce particulate concentration by 32 percent in its cities in 2018.


Breathing clean air is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Currently, breathing in Delhi’s air is similar to smoking 22 cigarettes in a day. Human health must become a priority when it comes to legislating on air pollution. There is an urgent need for India to be a pollution free nation. Pollution control boards must be empowered sufficiently to ensure that pollution does not take more lives or hinders the overall progress of India.


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