A survey of earlier environmental legislation indicates the nature and level of governmental awareness to environmental issues.
During the Colonial era, Indian Forests Act was passed in 1865. After this, the 1878 Act was a comprehensive piece of legislation, which provided for three classes of forests- reserved forests, protected forests, village forests. Apart from forest laws, nineteenth century legislation also partially regulated two other aspects: water pollution and wild life.
The shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act of 1853 was one of the earliest laws concerning water pollution. Attempt was made to regulate pollution by imposing fines, in 1857. The Indian Penal Code, enacted in 1860 also imposed fines on people who voluntarily fouled the water of any public spring, reservoir. The North India Canal and Drainage Act was passed in 1873, to prevent damage to any stream or river. The Indian Fisheries Act passed in 1897 penalized the killing of fish by poisoning water and by using explosives. The Indian Ports Act was passed in 1908, to prohibit throwing of rubbish blast or oil or other things likely to form a bank or shoal detrimental to navigation.
The earliest laws concerning air pollution were the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act of 1905 and the Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act of 1912. With respect to wildlife protection, legislations were specific to areas and species. In 1873, Madras enacted the first wildlife statute for protection of wild elephants. In 1887, the center enacted the Wild Birds Protection Act prohibiting the possession or sale of wild birds. In 1912, the Central Government enacted a broader Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, which specified closed hunting seasons and regulated the hunting of designated species through licensing. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, was evolved during the pre-independence era but still remains in force. The Act consolidates the provisions of the Indian Forest Act of 1878 and its amending Acts. The 1927 Act deals with an additional category, namely non-government (private) forests, along with the three listed in the 1878 Act. This Act deals with, for categories of forests, namely, reserved forests, village forests, protected forests, and non-government (private) forests. Any unauthorized felling of trees, quarrying, grazing and hunting in reserved forests is punishable with a fine or imprisonment. Yet another law, for the protection of the wildlife and habitat was the Hailey National Park Act of 1936.