London has its congestion charge and emission-linked road tax, Singapore has electronic road pricing and Paris its unique even-and-odd registration plates to keep city air fit to breathe. What does gasping Delhi have? From Dec 1, the intrepid fuel pump man, doubling up as pollution’s policeman with a nozzle gun. The PUC-for-fuel rule may be a good idea but how in oxygen’s name is he going to implement it in this porous giant of a city?
As December 1 approaches, motorists without a valid pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate may have to scamper to service stations to acquire their licence to refuel. With barely a week left before the Delhi government’s decision to make PUCs mandatory, both petrol dealers and vehicle owners are bracing themselves for chaos at fuel stations.
Government officials, however, say that 80 per cent of petrol pumps in Delhi are authorised to issue PUCs. Other than these there are 660 centres that can issue the necessary certificates to vehicle-owners. These, according to the government, should be sufficient for a smooth launch of the scheme.
S S Yadav, commissioner at food and civil supplies department, said motorists with valid PUCs will be given stickers that they can display on their windscreen so that no time is wasted in checking their PUC certificate. Those who do not have a sticker can paste a photocopy of their PUC, Yadav said.
Mandatory PUC certificates were recommended by a high-power committee headed by the Delhi chief secretary, that was set up after the 2014 edition of the Ambient Air Pollution (AAP) database released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Delhi to have the most polluted city air in the world, with an annual average of 153 micrograms of 2.5 small particulates (the normal being 60).
The committee had outlined short- and long-term measures to control pollution in the city. One of the short-term measures was the “effective implementation and tightening of PUC norms for all vehicles”. The minutes of two meetings, held by the committee in June and July, mentioned a six-point plan to implement the short-term measure of tightening PUC norms for reducing air pollution. These included:
# Intensifying challaning of visibly polluting vehicles and non-PUC holders
# Making PUC centres more efficient and minimising the scope of human interference to make the generated pollution check data reliable
# Making probes for exhaust check sensor-based to eliminate discretion of the inspecting person
# Enforcing stricter PUC norms for old vehicles
# Integrating the transport department’s PUC database with the vehicle registration database and taking action against violators on regular basis; and
# Exploring the possibility of linking PUC certificates with insurance schemes of vehicles for allowing incentives
While the implementation of these tasks was to be carried out by the Delhi government’s transport department, the civil supplies department was assigned the implementation of valid PUC requirement as a precondition for filling up petrol or diesel at fuel stations. Earlier this month, the Delhi government announced that it was set to implement its decision to make valid PUCs compulsory for refueling from December 1.
“This may not have been done in any other part of the country but it will make a difference. It is like children deciding to burst less firecrackers to reduce pollution. Elsewhere in the world they use measures such as levying congestion charges to control pollution. There will be hiccups initially but after a while, implementation will not be difficult,” a transport department official said.
The Delhi government has also decided to increase the number of centres issuing PUC certificates and keep them open longer. The transport department has issued advertisements inviting more petrol pump owners to be authorised to issue PUC certificates. Most of the filling stations have PUC centres in their complexes.
Yadav said the transport department has already started working on issuing PUC stickers to those who possess the paper. In case of any law and order problem faced by petrol dealers (see report, right), they can inform the police. At a meeting held with petrol dealers last week, government officials allayed their fears of facing unnecessary harassment by motorists without PUCs.
According to the government, the validity of PUC certificates for Euro 4 vehicles is one year while it is three months for all other vehicles in the city.
IT professional Pritish Agarwal, 22, who drives to work daily from Vasant Kunj to Gurgaon, said that while the government’s intention in making PUC certificates mandatory is good, the implementation is not going to be easy. “I think it’s going to be painful to have to present your PUC at the petrol pump every time. I can’t imagine what the scene at the petrol pump will be like. And how can you stop someone from refueling when they are already out on the road?”
South Delhi resident Shobha Nayyar, 63, said the government has taken a step in the right direction. “There will be little or no inconvenience. One can always keep the PUC certificate in the glove compartment. If the person checking the PUC knows what to do, it will take a minute or less for him to check.” She said that if there are agitated customers or brawls at the petrol pump, it is because of the problems of attitude that Delhi faces and not because of a flaw in the system.
“For those who have to renew their PUC certificate every three months, it is going to be a bother. But that’s the price you pay for driving a car. We are all suffering because of the rise in pollution. It is dreadful for people walking on the road than for people driving in air-conditioned cars. Those violating the mandatory PUC norms should be made to pay much heavier fines,” Nayyar said.
Pumps hardly pumped up
Petrol dealers feel that while issuing the certificates is one part of the problem that lies ahead, the greater challenge will be to check valid PUCs before selling fuel. According to the All India Petroleum Dealers Association (AIPDA), on an average each petrol pump in Delhi caters to around 6,000 vehicles per day. The association feels that checking PUCs will lead to delays in refuelling and they may well bear the brunt of the impatient motorists’ ire. This, they apprehend, may lead to a law and order problem.
Ajay Bansal, president of AIPDA, said that the situation on the ground will be different from what the government may have budgeted for. “Petrol is regarded as an essential commodity under the law. How can we refuse to give it to someone? If we refuse, it amounts to hoarding of an essential commodity. Besides, the attendant at the petrol pump is not a highly educated person, he is only required to understand what the customer wants and accept the correct payment. He does not have the knowledge or the expertise to check a valid PUC certificate. In this city, even if a customer is asked not to park at a particular spot at the pump, it leads to heated arguments. Such a step is going to create nuisance and put our poor attendants at a risk,” Bansal said.
Bansal said each of the 398 petrol pumps in Delhi delivers 4.5 lakh litres of fuel per month. Putting the onus of checking PUC certificates on petrol dealers will bring their sales down owing to the delays caused in the delivery of fuel. “If we have to properly examine the PUCs before giving fuel, it will add up to 10 minutes to the filling time of one vehicle. This means the men at our pumps will spend about 15 minutes on one vehicle. While 6,000 is the average number of cars that each petrol pump caters to, some of the busiest petrol pumps in Delhi cater to as many as 10,000 to 15,000 cars daily. The delays in delivery could halve our output,” Bansal said.
President of the Delhi Petrol Dealers Association Atul Peshawaria pointed out that the move will affect the border areas of Delhi differently. He said that if petrol pumps in Delhi insist on a valid PUC, a person without it may drive across the border to get fuel from Gurgaon or Noida. This, he said, will not only be a loss of income for Delhi’s petrol dealers but a loss of revenue for its government.
Bansal said the Delhi government’s decision is impractical.
“I don’t find any logic behind this move. Why are they saddling us with their duty of checking valid PUC certificates? We just can’t do it. If they want to take action against us, we are willing to go to court,” Bansal said.
He said that the AIPDA had already written to Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung, expressing their inability to implement the government’s decision.