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NCR Woes for Diesel Car Owners as National Green Tribunal at Bay

Is the NGT in its 18 July order overlooking the SC’s judgement, specifying certain exemptions for diesel car owners?

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A parliamentary legislation that set up the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2010 probably did not anticipate the total lack of comprehensiveness in its approach so far. Invested with going into “substantial questions relating to the environment,” the NGT has managed to do little but court controversy and fuel outrage.

This, despite the NGT being manned by 10 judicial officials, with the chairperson being a sitting or retired high court Chief Justice or a Supreme Court judge, and 10 bureaucratic ‘experts’ of the minimum rank of additional secretary or principal secretary if serving/retired in the states, with at least five years’ experience in environmental matters. Or ones holding a doctorate in the subject.

Its latest volley on banning/scrapping/impounding old diesel vehicles came on 20 July 2016, when it modified its earlier 18 July order, in the face of protest from the automobile industry, the central government and car owners, among others.

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Livelihoods Affected

On the 18 July, the NGT directed the Delhi Regional Transport Office (RTO), to forthwith de-register all diesel cars 10 years old in order to prevent them from plying in the NCR. Curiously, it was silent on the RTOs in Gurgaon, Noida, Bhiwadi and Alwar. On 20 July, it directed the Delhi RTO to begin de-registering 15-year-old diesel cars instead.

This latest eruption was born probably out of frustration after the Delhi Police reported that it was finding it very difficult to keep 10 year old diesel cars off the road, pursuant to the NGT’s earlier order of April 2015.

Some 10-15 year-old cars are taxis, representing the livelihood of the people plying them, having bought the older cars cheaply.

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Financial Compensation Mechanism

Besides, the 3,000 cars that were impounded over the last year had to be let go with a fine after various magistrates ordered their release.

Also, the Supreme Court, cleaning up after the NGT which, incidentally, has powers equivalent only to a ‘civic court’, had earlier directed that NOCs be granted to all 10-year-old diesel cars, impounded or otherwise, so that they could be sold in rural areas outside the NCR.

Now the NGT in an inadvertent over-ruling of the Supreme Court, says 15-year-old vehicles must be scrapped and no NOCs are to be given.

There is still no financial compensation mechanism instituted and the NGT only envisages the DDA, providing large parking lots where scrapped vehicles can be parked.

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Lack of Clarity

There is utter confusion on whether 15-year-old trucks, buses etc. will be taken off too, being the most polluting of all. This, because of the chaos that will result in the NCR supply chain and public transport system if this is done.

The NGT is certainly going after the low-hanging fruit of diesel passenger cars while doing absolutely nothing about construction dust, industrial pollution and other particulate matter-emitting activity.

This is both baffling and perplexing and as ill-conceived as the disruptive odd-even programme run sporadically by the AAP government, without appreciably denting pollution statistics.

This latest ruling aimed at the NCR comes despite the fact that as recently as June 2016, the Kerala High Court stayed the NGT’s state branch orders of May 2016, banning and scrapping 10-year-old cars and trucks.

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Is the NGT in its 18 July order overlooking the SC’s judgement, specifying certain exemptions for diesel car owners?
(Photo: Reuters)
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Arguments by the Centre

Happily, this fresh NCR ruling was promptly contested by the central government. Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Ministry of Heavy Industry, described the NGT ruling of 18 July as “harsh” and stated that particulate matter from diesel vehicles, currently no more than 2 percent, would come down to the level emitted by petrol and CNG vehicles, via 2020 pollution control norms.

She pointed out that the automotive industry contributes over 8 percent of all FDI and is a major source of employment generation under the government’s ‘Make In India’ programme.

Toyota has already called for a review before making fresh investments in India.

Anand also pointed out that private vehicle owners had paid their 15 years’ worth of road tax and had every right to ply their vehicles for that duration. This may have prompted the revision in stance on 20 July.

Also, a number of automotive companies, including market leader Maruti, have added diesel engine and car manufacturing lines recently, spending crores of rupees to cater to the greater demand for economical-to-run diesel cars.

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Snapshot

Implementing NGT’s Order

  • While NGT on July 18 said 10-year-old diesel cars should be de-registered, it didn’t specify how the order would be implemented in Gurgaon, Noida, Bhiwadi and Alwar.
  • Livelihood of people plying 10-15-year-old cars as taxis bound are bound to be affected after NGT’s recent order.
  • NGT’s order overrules Supreme Court’s judgement, in which the court had directed NOCs to be granted to 10-year-old diesel cars.
  • A roadmap is yet to be drawn regarding the scrapping of old vehicles as well as financial compensation to be awarded for the same.
  • The Centre’s argument so far has been the FDI contribution by the automotive industry and employment generation in the sector.
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NGT’s Flawed Logic

The NGT had, in fact, decreed, to no avail, in 2014, that all vehicles, both diesel and petrol, were to be scrapped once they were 15 years old. Industry observers and spokesmen, taken by surprise, felt that even the new orders will not withstand legal challenges.

The NGT also banned new high-end diesel SUVs of over 2,000 cc capacity, exempting trucks, buses, and public service vehicles. That expensive high-end SUVs are made with the latest technology and their emissions are minimal, sometimes better than their latest petrol versions, has not been accounted for.

Should high-technology diesel vehicles be clubbed with the more humble sort at all? However, this order has also been stayed by the Kerala High Court, and, under pressure, is presently held in abeyance in the NCR too.

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser. He can be reached at @gautammuk)

Also read:
Ban Diesel Vehicles Older Than 15 Years First: NGT Softens Blow
De-Register Diesel Vehicles Over 10 Years Old: NGT to Delhi RTO

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