Hardlook: End of the road

The Delhi government’s decision to take 1.9 lakh old diesel vehicles off the roads is going to put pressure on a system already stretched too thin.

Written by Sarah Hafeez | New Delhi | Published: November 14, 2016 2:50:10 am
hardlook759 While traffic police have a list of 1.9 lakh errant vehicles at hand, they don’t know where to put them. Traffic police currently have 18 pits with space for nearly 9,000 vehicles.

On the morning of November 6, Indermohan Singh was waiting at a traffic signal near Siri Fort complex when traffic assistant sub-inspector Kishanbir Singh decided to flag his Maruti Suzuki Zen D down and check its papers. That was the end of the road for the silver, or rather greying, diesel hatchback, registered in the name of Gurjasbir Singh in June 2001.

Indermohan (55), driving the diminutive car from his New Friends Colony home to Green Park, didn’t put up much of a fight. “It belongs to my nephew. We have other cars. We use this only to transport things for our business; we rarely drive it around. It won’t happen again, sir,” he told the policeman.

But Kishanbir took one more look at the dull metal exteriors — not worth more than Rs 15,000 in the scrap market — the moth-eaten seat covers, and the registration certificate (RC) dated June 2001, and asked Indermohan to hand over the car.

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Stranded at the Siri Fort signal, Indermohan took an autorickshaw, while Kishanbir sent the Zen to the traffic police pit at Lado Sarai nearby.

In the first such drive of its kind, the traffic police on November 8 started the arduous task of impounding vehicles — diesel, petrol and CNG — older than 15 years, a year after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered authorities to do so. And on Saturday, the Delhi transport department issued an official list of 1.9 lakh diesel vehicles older than 15 years, which traffic police are now supposed to focus on taking off the roads.

But where will all these vehicles go?

The pits

The traffic police pit where Indermohan’s car was taken is a large DDA plot adjacent to Lado Sarai village. In it lie hundreds of metal shells of what used to be cars, autorickshaws and two-wheelers — making it seem like a vehicle cemetery of sorts. Traffic police said thousands of cars have been lying in vacant pockets of DDA and MCD land across Delhi.

“There are hundreds of vehicles — as old as 15-18 years — here; no one knows the exact number. You can find all kinds of vehicles — from Audis to autorickshaws. Many come after accidents, and some are seized during raids on illicit liquor, contraband or criminals,” a traffic police officer said.

It is to these already crowded pits that impounded vehicles are being added. Indermohan’s Zen stands on the periphery, giving a blue Volvo hatchback company. “Drunken driving,” the traffic police officer said, pointing to the shiny car.

When a car is court challaned, the owner is supposed to appear before the metropolitan magistrate and pay a fine to claim it. “But many do not turn up because the vehicle has an expired RC, or an RC is issued in a previous owner’s name, or because the car has been mangled beyond repair. Many vehicles are embroiled in court cases for years, so they become court property and cannot be disposed of till the cases are over,” DCP (Traffic), south Delhi, Dinesh Kumar Gupta explained.

“Once court cases end, the vehicles are kept for six months for owners to claim them. After that, they are auctioned for scrapping. But the auction process is long and not many people are interested in buying such vehicles,” a senior traffic police officer said.

Gone for good

“Traffic police earlier used to catch old and polluting vehicles in checks during non-peak hours. Hundreds of vehicles were issued challans, but after paying a fine in court, they were let off. This time, such vehicles are being impounded for good,” a traffic police officer in south Delhi said. Traffic police began the drive on November 8, and have so far impounded about 30 vehicles.

Last week, Garima Bhatnagar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), told The Indian Express, “We decided to take immediate steps to impound old vehicles till we were given a list of deregistered vehicles by the Delhi government.”
That list came out on Saturday, and it should make life easier for traffic police officers who had so far been keeping an eye on exhaust pipes to judge if a vehicle is old.

Desperate times

When the NGT passed an order in July directing the Delhi government to deregister diesel vehicles older than 10 years in Delhi-NCR, there was panic. The Centre filed an affidavit in court, saying there were no provisions in the Motor Vehicles Act to “deregister” a vehicle based on how old it is.

The Delhi government, too, said it would move courts for clarity because people were threatening to litigate against it. The UP government cautioned that farmers who own old diesel vehicles could take to the streets.

Then came the pollution spike.

At an emergency meeting held last week, after particulate matters levels spiked post Diwali, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung directed the transport department to immediately deregister old diesel vehicles. The courts, meanwhile, came down heavily on the Centre and the state government. This jolted authorities into action. A transport department official said, “We have been feeding our computer database with registration details of vehicles. We deregistered all vehicles registered in or before 2001.”

The transport department faced a hiccup when it found that roughly 4,000 light motor vehicles, mostly private four-wheelers, had been issued re-registrations after their 15-year-old RCs expired. “We are preparing a formal order about deregistration of these specific vehicles,” a senior transport officer said.

Space crunch

While traffic police have a list of 1.9 lakh errant vehicles at hand, they don’t know where to put them. Traffic police currently have 18 pits with space for nearly 9,000 vehicles. The pits currently house 6,000 vehicles. “The Chief Secretary directed the DDA to temporarily allot us space on 21 plots till March 31 next year. We have not got it so far,” Bhatnagar said.

A DDA spokesperson said they are “in the process of handing over land”. “The commissioner (planning) has earmarked a two-acre plot in Narela and another one in Rohini,” the spokesperson said. But this is of little comfort to traffic police personnel. “The space will only be temporary. Where will all these old vehicles go? There is no centralised or organised scrapping mechanism in place,” said a traffic police officer.

For now, though, Indermohan’s Zen  has found a new home. And it’s not going anywhere.

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