Ban on big diesel cars stays, Supreme Court says get us data on polluting fuel

Green groups want to extend the ban to smaller diesel cars and other smog-choked cities in India.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: January 6, 2016 3:21 am
diesel ban, supreme court diesel ban, diesel ban supreme court The Supreme Court had also been expected to rule on Tuesday on a separate green tax on all diesel cars in the city, but has yet to announce its decision on that levy.

The Supreme Court Tuesday continued its ban on registration of diesel SUVs and high-end vehicles with engine capacity of over 2000 cc in the capital until March 31, and observed that automakers will be “in trouble” if there is empirical evidence to show diesel pollutes more than petrol.

A bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur asked Central and Delhi governments to adduce verifiable findings to examine the claim by automobile companies that modern diesel engines don’t cause more pollution than petrol engines since they work on superior technology.

The bench rejected a plea by automobile manufactures Mercedes, Toyota and Mahindra & Mahindra to lift the interim ban on registration of diesel vehicles of 2000 cc and above, “Do your cars emit oxygen? If we find diesel (engines) to be more polluting, you are in trouble.”

The prohibition was imposed by the bench — also comprising Justice A K Sikri and Justice R Banumathi — on December 16 after noting that “because of the higher engine capacity, they (diesel vehicles) are more prone to cause higher levels of pollution.” According to an affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court last year, diesel-driven vehicles account for over 90 per cent of SUVs in the country, 34 per cent of small cars and 70 per cent of large/medium cars.

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Observing that the “polluter pays” principle shall apply to owners of diesel cars, the bench said it will also consider banning registration of diesel vehicles below 2000 cc at an appropriate stage. It also took exception to old diesel vehicles being used by the central government, and sought to know from Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar: “Why should the government be a polluter? You are using vehicles older than 5-10 years. Are they not polluting? Should they not be removed?”

An hour later, when the Solicitor General came back to the court, he said the government has decided to phase out all diesel vehicles older than 10 years. “Five-year-old vehicles will either be converted to CNG or will be made battery-run,” Kumar added.

Pointing out that the top court is going to sternly implement its directions to control pollution in Delhi, the bench also dismissed a plea by private taxi operators to give them more time to switch to CNG. “We are not going to modify our direction whatever may be the effect. Taxis are to be run only on CNG after March 31,” said the bench, even as an argument was made that diesel-run taxis cannot switch to CNG because the engines are not compatible.

Meanwhile, the Solicitor General assured the court that more than 100 CNG stations will be made operational across the NCR to make sure there is no inconvenience to public.

The bench extended the ban on entry of goods vehicles not bound for the capital and also restricted entry of heavy vehicles from four more points on three national highways and one state highway. With this order, the ban on entry of goods vehicles spans to a total of five national highways — NH 1, 2, 8, 10 and 58 — and one state highway, SH 57, which witness largest number of vehicles passing through Delhi.

These highways connect the capital to neighbouring states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The court asked the authorities to divert these vehicles to alternate routes. At the same time, the court allowed entry of commercial vehicles, which are Delhi bound, but only once they pay enhanced pollution cess.

During the four-hour-long hearing, the court also suggested offering incentives to car owners to leave their vehicles at home and take a Metro to work. It asked the Solicitor General to consider starting a premium Metro service with the comfort of first-class railway coaches. “Why doesn’t the DMRC examine charging five-times the normal fare and have some premium service?” asked Justice Thakur, who is voluntarily carpooling with fellow judge Justice Sikri despite both of them being exempt due to their constitutional status. The law officer was also asked to seek instructions about expediting efforts to introduce BS-VI emission norms in the country before 2022.

The order has been passed on suggestions by senior advocate Harish Salve, who acts as amicus curiae in the PIL filed by environmentalist M C Mehta in 1985.