In 2003, the Delhi government planned to install computerised weighing machines at its borders to prevent overloaded good vehicles, with their straining engines, from entering the capital and releasing toxic fumes into its air. In 2015, it remains a plan.
The proposal to install computerised weigh in motion (WIM) systems — already in action in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra — remains stuck over who will take the first step and who will foot the bill of an estimated Rs 1-1.5 crore per installation.
And this, when latest official estimates show that upto 80,000 diesel trucks enter the capital every night. When the National Green Tribunal’s monitors have confirmed the findings of an investigation by The Indian Express that these trucks are not checked for weight or pollution. And when studies have shown a clear link between overloading of vehicles and the fumes they emit.
“What else is this but a lack of will? At the meetings we had, transporters would shout about lack of evidence of overloading and pollution and that was that. Government officials would start looking for excuses to delay the project. The Delhi government would keep saying that since it was a border project, other states should also cooperate,” said S P Singh, senior fellow at Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), an independent body nominated as an observer by the Delhi government of its efforts to check pollution in trucks.
Seven years ago, IFTRT had also participated in a multi-disciplinary study, conducted by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) and sponsored by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, on overloading of trucks and air pollution, which recommended that the WIM system was a “viable” option for Delhi.
Several studies have since supported this recommendation. For instance, a working group on roads for the national transport development policy of 2011 confirmed that “WIM systems should be used as a primary overweight detection equipment”.
When contacted, Delhi’s Transport Minister Gopal Rai said his government was now actively pursuing the WIM option, especially after the NGT’s ban this month on diesel vehicles over 10 years old from plying in Delhi.
“It is not possible to finish this work overnight. The WIM system is needed but it is a costly project and will require a lot of work, even to clear enough space in the identified borders. The National Highways Authority of India has installed these systems in other states, why can they not do it in Delhi?” Rai asked.
The NHAI had set up WIM systems on a “pilot basis” in Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra but in the case of Delhi, a senior official said, “there was no movement” after the Centre sought a “detailed financial report” from the state.
“In 2003, Delhi had informed the Union Transport Ministry about the project, much before any other state, when the Supreme Court was looking at air pollution in Delhi on a regular basis and overloaded trucks were identified as a major problem. The Central government offered funding and asked for a detailed financial report since it was a first of its kind project,” said the official from the ministry.
“But there was no movement on that. From our understanding, they could never get clearances from municipal authorities manning the tolls and never even approached the Public Works Department which was to carry out the project,” the official added.
State Transport Minister Rai added that his government, after meetings with officials from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, wrote to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on April 17, asking the NHAI to install such machines in Delhi, too.
When contacted, Durga Prasad Yadav, Transport Minister, UP, said that his state would “do its part” in ensuring that Delhi gets the “machines required”.
The file on the WIM systems may have finally started moving again, but the big question is why did it take so long: from Delhi’s proposal in 2003, to Delhi High Court in 2006, to CRRI in 2009, and back to the state government.
Amid all the discussions, the CRRI was the first to prepare a detailed roadmap after it was directed by Delhi High Court to conduct a feasibility study on Delhi’s borders to identify sites where WIM systems should be set up.
Said Dr Niraj Sharma, head of environmental science division at CRRI and lead investigator of the study: “When we started the project, we could not even get a definitive list of entry points for trucks in the city. And since we did not have any prior experience, 8-10 of us travelled to 50-60 places before we zeroed in on 15 major entry points in Delhi based on traffic volume.”
In its final report, the CRRI tagged Badarpur, Singhu, Ayangar, NH 8 toll plaza, Tikri and Kapashera on the Haryana border, and Kalindi Kunj, Bhopura, Ghazipur and Apsara on the UP border as sites where it was “feasible” to set up these systems.
According to sources, about Rs 1.5-2 crore was fixed as the estimated cost of the pilot project that would include a WIM system costing around Rs 50 lakh, a site for unloading goods from overloaded trucks, and lanes for trucks to take U-turns back or construct impounding pits nearby.
“The CRRI promised technical assistance and wrote to the state government with layout plans. That was the last communication between the two,” sources added.
Delhi’s former transport minister Ramakant Goswami said one reason why the CRRI study did not result in any action was the question of who would take charge.
“We kept writing to different states to support us so we could jointly set up such systems on the borders but there was no initiative. How much could the Delhi government do on its own? The trucks were coming from these states so why should they not take any responsibility?” he asked.
But when contacted, former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda said he “did not remember” any proposal to set up weighing machines on the Delhi-Haryana border.
A senior official from the Delhi Transport Department, who did not wish to be named, said that lack of cooperation between different agencies “has always been a problem”.
“The cost was never a hindrance, the problem was of space. The toll posts are in the hands of the municipal corporations, so where do we set up our systems? Our officers stand on the roads and stop trucks at least 1-2 km away from toll booths,” he added.
“After a petition on this issue was disposed of by the High Court (in 2009), the pressure fizzled out,” the official said.
At the same time, states that have implemented the system have given it the thumbs-up. S A Mojnidar, Assistant Director of Transport, Gujarat, said the state introduced the WIM system at a checkpost on the Rajasthan border in Sabarkantha district.
“Much less manpower is required at the checkpost. But the main benefit is that it saves a lot of time and fuel of commercial vehicles because only those vehicles that are overloaded will be stopped,” Mojnidar said.