Even as it acknowledged that spurt in vehicle population has negatively impacted the air quality in the national capital, the Centre shot down a proposal to declare a holiday in all Delhi schools on days when air pollution levels are high.
The government also opposed directives to limit the number of vehicles on roads by issuing orders that private cars ply only on alternate days and also restrict the number of government vehicles. It said this was not an “effective and feasible option”.
The submissions came in a joint affidavit of the Ministries of Environment and Forest, Road Transport and Highways, and Petroleum and Natural Gas, in response to issues raised in a report by the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA).
A bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu in November had asked the government to have its ministries concerned deliberate on the contentions regarding the depleting air quality in Delhi and respond to suggestions mooted by senior advocate Harish Salve, who is the amicus curiae in the PIL.
The EPCA, in collaboration with the Centre for Science and Environment, had listed out various measures to control pollution in the city. It had urged the court to order closure of schools on days when pollution levels are so high that they are considered harmful to health.
A steep hike in parking charges to limit the use of private vehicles, an additional 30 per cent cess on diesel vehicles to limit their use and a blanket ban on commercial vehicles not fit for Delhi were some of the other suggestions.
“About 80 per cent of government-owned cars have to be taken off roads and private cars should be allowed on alternate days…,” the report stated.
The government responded: “With regard to closing of schools on red alert days, it is respectfully submitted that exposure of school-going children to higher level of pollution occurs only for limited period, during travel. Moreover, most of the schools are closed for winter break.”
Countering the idea of restricting vehicles on roads, the affidavit stated: “With regard to plying of private cars on alternate days and restriction of government-owned cars, it is submitted that it may not be an effective and feasible option as people using personal cars are not likely to shift the mode of travel and, therefore, it may not result in substantial emission reduction.”
Citing a study conducted in 2010-11 by the Central Pollution Control Board, the government further said vehicle emissions contribute very less to air pollution as compared to other factors.
In Delhi, re-suspension of the dust is a major source of particulates in the ambient air and there was a need to take steps to reduce this and regulation of construction activities, the affidavit said.