Nearly 5,000 trucks passing through one checkpoint in just five hours, state transport buses without any papers, no coordination among government departments, lack of staff, and no machines to check pollution levels or the weight of vehicles.
If the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is looking for a roadmap to clean Delhi’s toxic air, it should first look at the preliminary reports submitted by the six lawyers it appointed last Tuesday as commissioners to enforce its ban on diesel vehicles over 10 years old from plying on the city’s roads.
The reports, based on more than 10 visits in two days to eight checkpoints on Delhi’s borders, were submitted to the tribunal before it relaxed the ban for two weeks on Monday — all the inspections were done between April 8-10.
The Indian Express examined the reports and found a list of “problems” ranging from lack of barricades forcing officials to “stand in the middle of the highway to stop vehicles”, leading to “6 near misses/ near accidents”, to using “torches/ streetlights” to check papers in the night — one report said they even had to light coils “to protect staff from mosquitoes”.
For instance, referring to the lack of staff, two of the commissioners, Amit Verma and Aditya N Prasad, noted that the “enforcement team even though heavily outnumbered and totally ill equipped, literally fought till the last man” to regulate the entry of vehicles into Delhi.
Prasad noted that during a visit to Singhu on the border with Haryana, from midnight to 5 am on April 9, he found that the checkpost had only six members on duty as “4800 trucks (@ average 16 trucks per minute) passed during the inspection period”.
“Each time a vehicle is impounded one official has to accompany it to the impound pit of the (Transport) Department which is located at Burari, approximately 20 kilometres away,” Prasad’s report said.
“Vehicles with GPS fitted device are difficult to be impounded as the owner/ controller immediately immobilizes the vehicle when the driver informs of enforcement,” the report noted, adding, “Two vehicles were chased as they appeared to be overloaded and were carrying protruding iron rods.”
Apart from the trucks, the report highlighted the lack of any monitoring of buses run by state governments — the drivers were “shocked” at the checks.
“The State Transport Buses of various states are not stopped at all…. It was found that none of the buses carried any kind of papers whatsoever, with the alibi that the same are deposited with the concerned depots. In fact the drivers were shocked that they were even stopped. The said vehicles are not impounded as there are passengers involved,” it noted.
The lack of basic monitoring equipment at the checkposts — devices to check pollution levels and weighbridges to track overloading — was another common problem noted in all the reports.
Among the other points highlighted: “high level of visible pollution/ fumes”; “no protective equipment/ masks/ reflectors provided”; “sirens/flashers/ loudspeakers not working” and “no drinking water” for staff.
Apart from Verma and Prasad, the other commissioners appointed by the NGT are Neha Kurian, Pallavi Talware, Atif Suhrawardy and Sahil Sangar. And apart from the Singhu border, they conducted inspections at Badarpur, Ayanagar, Rajokri, Okhla bird sanctuary, DND flyway, Faridabad toll plaza and Tikri from the over hundred checkposts through which vehicles enter Delhi.
Suhrawardy reported that the staff at the toll booths had “no knowledge of pollution checks or weight monitoring”.
The “officials had only checked RC copy of the vehicles which they had challaned and not checked RC copy of all the vehicles to see the life of vehicle”, Sangar wrote in his report.
“All of these places had very meagre staff and the impounding of vehicles and taking them to the impounding pit requires at least 2 personnel for each vehicle. At any given time, only a few vehicles could therefore be impounded,” noted Kurian and Talware.
The Indian Express had reported on Monday that the one site in Delhi to park large vehicles that are impounded by the Transport Department — Burari in north Delhi — was fast running out of space.
In fact, many of the issues raised by the commissioners were reported by The Indian Express as part of its investigative series titled Death by Breath on why Delhi’s air had turned toxic over the last decade. The NGT order to ban diesel vehicles and place curbs on unregulated construction activity in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), including Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, also referred to factors that the series found had contributed to making Delhi’s air the most polluted in the world.
The six commissioners are now expected to submit a joint report to the NGT with their recommendations on how to improve the monitoring process in the coming weeks.