The National Green Tribunal Act 2010 clearly lays down that NGT shall be guided by principles of natural justice in passing its orders. It's latest orders, banning the 15-year-old petrol and 10-year-old diesel vehicles in Delhi and NCR, however, does not seem to meet the end of justice. It is surprising that the two orders make no distinction between commercial and personal vehicles. While a commercial vehicle may easily do 30,000 kms in a month, a personal vehicle owned by a middle class employee, may reach that level in more than five years. So, where does the age matter in judging the wellness and efficiency of a vehicle?
The NGT's concern is understandable as air pollution triggers serious respiratory and other illnesses. Close to 8 million vehicles, two-thirds of them two-wheelers, are a major source of pollution in Delhi. Added to them are the thousands of vehicles that come to the Capital daily for business or other purposes. Vehicular emission load, in respect of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide, thus, has reached alarming levels in the metropolis.
All this, no doubt, is caused by increased impact of vehicular pollution. But NGT chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and the team of his technical advisers seem to believe that it is only the age of a vehicle that renders it intolerably polluting in 10 or 15 years ? I have two petrol-run cars, the older one is Honda City completing 15 years next December. I am a 70-year-old senior citizen who never felt tempted to build overflowing coffers for my family as a journalist and a public sector executive. I can't, therefore, afford a new car at this stage. I know NGT will force me to scrap my car that runs at incredibly very low emission, much lower than even the prescribed standard. And it has done just 70,000 kms in 14 plus years.
I have used this car very sparingly and have been personally taking its care. In terms of pollution, I bet my car will outsmart any new one on the road. However, I will never send it to scraps. If need be, I will park my car in front of the bungalow of Justice Swatanter Kumar, for him to compare its emission level to that of his own personal vehicle. I hope once it conclusively beats the standard of his car, he will be morally bound down to modify his order that indiscriminately punishes the lower income, middle class people. If he does not, I will go to the court, complaining about the NGT's monstrosity that is hell-bent on crushing the conscience of honest, disciplined senior citizens.
I am not arguing against the ban on old, polluting cars; I am arguing against the way order has been passed to indiscriminate consequences. A person maintains his health and lives 100 years enjoying life to the last day. Another person spoils his health at 50 and dies miserably of multiple ailments. Can one genuinely compare the efficiency of these two persons? By the same argument, can the NGT discard every 10 or 15-year-old car because of sheer age, dismissing the value of its potential? I am told our illustrious late PM Lal Bahadur Shastri bought an 8-year-old Fiat car which had done just 15,000 kms.
Even the Road Transport Ministry finds it neither just nor feasible to implement the NGT orders, especially in case of personal vehicles. The Ministry's stand is for allowing vehicles to ply on roads not on the basis of their age, but on the basis of their fitness levels. Road Transport Secretary Vijay Chibber says, "We are looking closely at the NGT order and will be organizing our response shortly. The Kejriwal govt too finds the NGT order apparently harsh and wants another court hearing in the matter. Meanwhile, the truckers who had threatened to go on protest strike in Delhi and NCR on April 13, have postponed it to May 1 on "government's assurance."
Citing a study, an IIT professor says that old vehicles constitute a tiny fraction of Delhi traffic. Transport itself accounts for only 17% of particulate pollution. Yet, Justice Kumar possibly believes this is the main reason of growing pollution in Delhi. NGT appears to have had no time to identify the real causes of the suffocating pollution. Or, how much studies have our NGOs or activists done to nail the real culprits? Can this NGT cite authoritative figures how much of the diesel that is available in the market through fuel stations and other sources is adulterated with kerosene before being supplied to the end-user?
When kerosene is mixed with diesel, the fuel takes a nasty turn, emits high level of pollutants and destroys the engine. Adulteration carries big premium for both adulterators and black marketers. Has anybody been able to check this corrupt practice, though it is common knowledge that almost 50% kerosene is diverted for adulteration? When kerosene is three time cheaper against diesel, great opportunity comes winding sharp for the black marketer in our slushy political and administrative environment.
Everyone, from politician, bureaucrat, judiciary to cop, talks of fighting corruption, but has anybody been able to check the high level of adulteration of diesel, the single-most cause of heavy losses to Railways, road transporters, users of diesel-based electric generators and, of course, to the common man? Well, kerosene price is kept low as a populist measure to help the poor, but when it gives rise to open public loot and the administration is incapable of stemming this rot, why does not the govt bring the kerosene price close to that of diesel by withdrawing the hefty subsidy the govt unimaginably imparts? An expert suggests this can be done by providing free solar panels to poor people in cities and in rural areas to tap solar energy for their needs. This would not only stop black market in diesel, but would also save big money for the govt to utilize elsewhere.
Let the NGT ban all old cars, pollution will hardly come down. In the past, courts threw the polluting industries out of the Capital, brought in CNG and vehicle pollution checks, but pollution levels remained ever stuck at suffocating levels. Why don't cops impound the ill-maintained old cars, tempos, three-wheelers and two-wheelers that are seen emitting thick clouds of smoke on Delhi roads every now and then ? Has someone asked them to spare these visible irritants? If not, then how come, they are there ? Do they pay slush money?
It's time for NGT to modify its order to focus better on effective pollution check, rather than on the vehicle's age. This would mean justice to those responsible citizens who take care to maintain high serviceability of their vehicles. Let the NGT not be a tyrant, out to wave the baton on the wrong citizen!