A collective effort is needed to clean up the air, the Supreme Court on Thursday said, holding that it cannot be asked to shut its eyes to the “phenomenal rise” in the pollution levels. The apex court also said the automobile giants have a huge role in clearing up the air and they should now wake up to their responsibility for the benefit of everyone.
The details of the judgement passed on March 29 banning sale and registration of vehicles, which are not BS-IV compliant, in India from April 1 when the new emission norms come into force, were made available today.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta noted that the use of BS-IV auto fuel reduces particulate matter in the air by 80 per cent as compared to BS-III auto fuel.
“However one may look at the issue of air pollution, it is time to realise that a collective effort is needed to clear up the air. In this process, the interveners (auto giants) have a huge role and they should now wake up to their responsibility for the benefit of all of us,” the bench said while rejecting the submission of the automobile industry and the dealers association.
The bench also rejected the submission that the existing stock of BS III compliant vehicles is a miniscule percentage of the overall number of vehicles on the roads in the country and if that miniscule number is brought on the roads by way of sale, it would only result in a marginal increase in air pollution.
“The health of every person in our country is important and we are more than reluctant to accept any submission that health of the people can be compromised, even in the smallest measure, for the commercial interests of the automobile industry or of any industry for that matter,” it said.
Regarding the auto giants submission that life of such vehicles would be at least 10 years, the court said the concern is not only for the present population of the country but for future generations who also have an “entitlement to breathe pollution free air”.
“This is what sustainable development and inter-generational equity is all about. Do we really want to leave behind drastically polluted air to be breathed in this case at least for the next between 10 and 15 years?,” the bench asked
It added that while the development versus environment paradigm could be debated upon, there cannot be any debate in the development versus public health paradigm.
While it criticised other auto giants for not planning out its activities to phase out BS-III vehicles and bring in BS-IV ones in a time span of over five years, the bench praised some responsible manufacturers, especially Maruti Suzuki for taking the necessary ‘down to business’ approach.
“We were told that it (Maruti Suzuki) had switched over to manufacturing BS-IV compliant vehicles quite a few years ago. Other manufacturers of four wheeler vehicles also took similar steps, but somewhat tentatively,” it said.
Noting how the events unfolded, the bench said it was incumbent upon the automobile industry to modulate its views and give secondary importance to commercial profits and take pro-active steps to reduce vehicular pollution but it seemed that they were “quite sanguine that their desire for selling accumulated stock of BS-III compliant vehicles even after April 1, 2017 would be acceded to”.
This was evident from the past practice when it had become necessary for the Government to virtually submit to the commercial interests of the automobile industry by permitting the registration of BS-III compliant vehicles in some cities while permitting the sale and registration of BS-I and BS-II compliant vehicles in other cities even after the cut-off date of April 1, 2005 till the accumulated stock is exhausted.
The bench said none of the explanations given by the auto industry justified the failure to increase the production of BS-IV compliant vehicles.
“The attempt, sadly, seems to have been to push all concerned to the wall by putting before them a fait accompli situation and by ignoring the concerns of millions of our country men and women who are entitled to breathe fresh air or at least breathe less polluted air.
“As is apparent from the figures relating to production of BS-III and BS-IV compliant vehicles supplied to us, this activity and inactivity has been entirely for commercial benefits and to avoid the cost of upgrading available technology,” it said.
It noted the submissions of Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, who appeared for the Centre, that requisite quality fuel for BS-IV compliant vehicles would be available all over the country from April 1 and refineries had incurred an expenditure of about Rs 30,000 crore for producing the requisite fuel for BS-IV vehicles.
“Surely, such a huge investment from the tax payers earnings cannot be defeated only with a view to subserve the interest of the automobile industry which, as discussed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, has become one of the major causes in the phenomenal rise of air pollution in India,” it said.
The apex court said the government’s office memorandum cannot be interpreted as a carte blanche (complete freedom to act as one wishes) to the automobile industry to continue the manufacture of BS-III compliant vehicles till the very last day and then plead the necessity of clearing accumulated stock of BS-III vehicles.
“This would make a mockery of the efforts of all concerned in regulating vehicular emissions and virtually enabling the interveners to emasculate an important component of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, namely, the entitlement of millions of our country men and women to breathe less polluted air and ignore public health issues in conducting their business. We cannot be asked to shut our eyes to the phenomenal rise in pollution levels in the country,” it said.
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