So the courts have finally decided to penalise the trucks which are a major source of the rise in pollutants of Delhi’s air. Light vehicles and small trucks coming into Delhi will be charged Rs 700 per entry while larger ones — with three or four axles — will be liable to pay Rs 1,300 as a pollution tax.
The hope is that a large number of these trucks that do not need to enter Delhi – they transit through the capital — will be deterred by the tax and will take alternative routes to reach their destinations. A lower number of smoke-bellowing trucks – the traffic department says more than 65,000 of them enter Delhi each day — would mean lesser emissions and hence, better air quality.
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Though the Supreme Court has asked this tax to be levied for only four months as a pilot project, the order has to be seen in the larger context of re-affirming the polluters’ pay principle that is the cornerstone of all environmental regulation across the globe. Industries have been hauled up for pollution and have often been asked to pay for the clean-up action.
This is the first time in India that the transport sector has been made accountable for the pollution it causes.
The levy of Rs 700 or Rs 1,300 may or may not stay beyond the four months. In any case, it is not a prohibitive amount for bigger trucks. Whether it improves the air quality in Delhi can be assessed only at a later stage. The real significance of the Supreme Court order is in the precedent it sets for those demanding a curb on the increase in vehicular traffic in many other parts of the country, especially in environmentally fragile areas like the mountains of Uttarakhand.
Civic authorities in Shimla and many other tourist cities are already considering ways to control the flow of vehicles into their areas, not only for reasons of pollution but also because of the congestion they cause. The number of vehicles plying on the roads leading to Kedarnath and Badrinath shrines are also becoming a huge problem for the local residents.
Arguments for imposing a pollution tax or even a congestion tax are being made to ensure that private vehicles avoid these places. The Supreme Court action has just strengthened those arguments.