The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) crusade to improve the quality of Delhi’s air has very often meant a single point agenda: Clamping down on diesel vehicles. In April last year it had said diesel vehicles older than 10 years should not ply on the city’s roads. The green body’s directions created confusion for authorities in Delhi while it did precious little to improve the city’s seriously polluted air. The Delhi Traffic Police and the RTO were confounded as to who would implement the tribunal’s orders and the police found out that issuing challans did not deter diesel car drivers from bringing their vehicles back on the road. The NGT has now asked the RTO to de-register all diesel vehicles that are more than 10 years old.
There is no quarrel with the contention that diesel vehicles pollute. However, the extent to which diesel vehicles are responsible for Delhi’s bad air is open to debate. An IIT- Kanpur study notes that they are responsible for only 2 per cent of Delhi’s pollution. Other studies, including those by environmental groups, cite a higher figure. However, given the grave proportions that pollution in Delhi has assumed, corrective measures are called for. The significance of the NGT’s directive should be seen from that perspective. And it’s here that the green body’s directive fails to hit the right target. While on paper, it may mean that thousands of vehicles could go off the road, it’s anybody’s guess if that will happen in reality. Earlier bans have failed in their objectives. Vehicle owners could well find it convenient to register their 10-year-old automobiles elsewhere in the NCR — Gurgaon or Noida, areas not bound by the NGT’s directives.
Delhi’s traffic anyhow does not comprise only vehicles registered in the city. Commercial as well as personal vehicles from the NCR — as well as other states — ply on Delhi’s roads. The court order does not distinguish between vehicles used for personal purposes and those that transport necessities. There is also the danger that the order may mean that Delhi will be transporting its pollution elsewhere. The aged vehicles from the capital may find their way to second-hand car markets in other parts of the country, especially smaller towns — that are not doing too well on the pollution front. Tackling Delhi’s pollutions requires a long-term vision, that also encompasses regulating diesel vehicles. Such vehicles can be phased out. But knee-jerk reactions like bans will do more harm than good.