Verdict corner: Will simply banning old cars in Delhi reduce pollution?

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Published: May 7, 2015 12:53:58 AM

While pollution control experts have welcomed the NGT order, the transport department wants the ban to be based on fitness and not age

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) decision to ban 10-year-old diesel vehicles in the national capital has dealt a severe blow to almost all the stakeholders, be it private owners, the enforcement agencies or some business segments. While the NGT has given authorities time till May 18 to implement the ban on diesel vehicles, the Supreme Court has already given thumbs up to its November last year’s similar order banning all vehicles that are more than 15 years old from plying on Delhi roads.

Noting that diesel is the prime source of air pollution in Delhi, the environment tribunal has also asked the Delhi government to submit suggestions on providing incentives to those transferring or scrapping old and polluting diesel vehicles, capping the total number of registrations in the national capital, hiking parking fee and setting up pollution check booths at the borders to check vehicles entering the area for emissions and overloading.

Although experts say that the decision to address the contentious issue of reducing vehicular pollution is a welcome move, they feel this will lead to some cascading effects on almost everything, including the car industry.

Though the ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles in Delhi will boost the petrol car market, industry experts feel that the demand for diesel cars will definitely take a hit. Besides, any pan-India ban on old diesel cars will surely have an impact as the diesel segment comprises 30% of the 2.6-million-unit Indian passenger vehicle market.

Even India’s used or pre-owned car market, which has picked up lately with major car manufacturers such as Maruti and Mahindra entering the pre-owned car business segment, will be affected. As of now, the situation in the used-car market is already grim with few takers left for vehicles that are older than 7-8 years. Automobile industry experts say that prices have dropped 40-60% for pre-used diesel cars.

The motor industry is wholly unprepared for the way in which the ban on old vehicles is imposed. Automobile experts are also worried about what will happen to the lakhs of interstate buses and private vehicles that enter the city every day or pass through Delhi.

Experts feel that the ban may affect the consumers in a big way as the country’s economic situation and other aspects need to be taken into account while implementing such decisions. “This is a knee-jerk reaction. How are people going to bear the cost of new vehicles? Generally, people do not buy expensive cars only for 10 years. These vehicles are modelled to last more than 15 years,” feels Supreme Court lawyer ADN Rao.

While pollution control experts have welcomed the NGT order, the transport department wants the ban to be based on fitness and not age. Even the proposal to cap the number of registrations has been opposed by the government, saying that implementation will be difficult as owners will simply get the vehicle registered in neighbouring states and the government will lose a substantial amount of revenue. Even the demand for increasing cess on diesel vehicles could not take off earlier in 2004.

A Centre for Science and Environment report has also said that the maintenance of a vehicle is more important than the age of a car. “The focus should be on annual fitness,” it noted.

Says Supreme Court senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, “It should be the kilometres run and not the number of years which should be determinative of any ban. A certificate of fitness to ply from a credible agency should be must.”

Rao questions that, in the absence of any dismantling policy, where will these vehicles go? “The NGT has already banned cutting and dismantling of old vehicles in the Mayapuri locality of Delhi. And now we have this ban. Nobody has thought about this. Dumping and dismantling will further add to the problem.”

Piyush Tewari, the founder of the Save Life Foundation, an NGO, feels that the country doesn’t have any definite scrapping policy. “We need to first have in place back-end ready for vehicle dismantling before implementing the NGT order. Penalties have to be fixed for the violators.”

Experts think that there is a need to have a holistic plan. The transport department should immediately detail how pollution-under-control certification norms can be tightened. They even recommended surprise checks and rigorous audit of Pollution Under Control (PUC) test centres in Delhi. The government should seriously consider advancing Euro IV and implement measures such as restricting use of private transport through additional charges, limiting use of diesel fuel, augmenting public transport system and making commercial vehicles not destined for Delhi bypass the city.

To check increasing pollution caused by influx of diesel vehicles, senior lawyer Harish Salve has demanded surcharge on these vehicles and suggested that the government fix a critical level of pollution. He has also asked for Euro IV-VII standards to be achieved much earlier during 2015-20 rather than the government’s current 2017-25 timeline in his plea before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has impelled the Centre to act urgently on “second-generation reforms” and consider serious measures to curb pollution in Delhi.

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