Stating that there were “practical difficulties” in implementation of the odd-even scheme currently being tested in the capital, the Delhi High Court Wednesday asked the Delhi government to consider if the policy should be restricted to an eight-day trial period instead of 15 days.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath, also asked the government to file data on daily pollution levels in the capital from January 1-7, and get “comparative data” from December to see whether pollution levels have actually reduced because of the policy. The matter will now be heard on Friday.
“This court had not interfered in your policy in December. Now that so many people have come and objected to it, how do you respond?” asked the Chief Justice, noting that the restriction on car usage was causing “inconvenience” to the public.
The bench refused to accept the argument put forth by Delhi government standing counsel Rahul Mehra that the policy was required in public interest. “As a concerned citizen, I don’t want my child to need a nebuliser. So many people are cooperating fully with the policy,” said Mehra.
The bench, however, said it “did not want a lecture” and instead required data from the government. The court also pulled up the government for the “vague” status report it had filed, as it did not contain any data on pollution levels.
“It has been on for one week. Has there been any change in pollution levels?” asked the bench.
Eight separate PILs on various facets of the policy have been filed before the court. During the hearing, advocate Rajiv Khosla, appearing on behalf of the Bar Association, said the policy was “not legal” as there was no provision in the motor vehicles Act to restrict traffic movement or impose penalty in such a manner. According to Khosla’s plea, the restriction permitted under the Act is only on grounds of public safety and limited to restricting movement of heavy vehicles on “unsafe” roads.
Lawyers present in court also argued that the “public cooperation” so far had been due to the “fear of penalty”. But the bench said the pilot project had “a good publicity effect to make people aware of the problem” of traffic and pollution. The court, however, suggested that data collected for one week may be sufficient for the government to come up with a proper policy.
The court also noted that the status report submitted by the government had admitted that public transport facilities are inadequate and cannot cope with passenger requirements. It also pointed out that the restriction of private cars has increased use of cabs in the city. “Are the cabs all diesel? Don’t the cabs cause pollution?” asked the bench after Mehra admitted that diesel vehicles were still operating in the city as taxi cabs. Cab operators have been given time till March 31 by the court to convert their cars to CNG.
Mehra also sought to highlight the “initiative” shown by high court judges who were walking to court or sharing cars. But the bench pointed out that even though judges can carpool or walk, there are several files that have to be moved from the court to the home offices of judges.”How do you think the files will travel?” asked the bench.
During arguments, petitioner Gunjan Khanna also said that data available on the National Air Quality Index website did not show any change in the pollution levels in the past week. “There is no reasonable nexus between this policy and the objective of curbing pollution,” said Khanna. Another PIL petitioner pointed out that senior citizens had not been exempt from the policy. Two PILs have also sought exemptions for lawyers, on the grounds that they are required to travel to various courts.
The bench refused to issue any interim orders, but indicated that it may issue orders on Friday.