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Supreme Court dismisses plea by Bajaj Auto to raise cap on auto rickshaws in Delhi

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea lodged by Bajaj Auto seeking to raise the cap on the upper limit on the number of auto-rickshaws allowed in the national capital.

A bench comprising Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Augustine George Masih observed that the cap was imposed for the protection of environment, and a wrong signal would be sent if the court entertains such a plea by an auto manufacturer interested in increasing its business.

The court stated that at the instance of the manufacturer of auto rickshaw, the application cannot be entertained. It added that if the court starts entertaining applications of the manufacturers of vehicles for relaxing the norms which were imposed for protecting the environment, it would send wrong signals.

However, the court clarified that it will entertain a plea for raising of the cap if the government or any authority or organization working for the interest of the common man of Delhi approaches the court. The court added that the application must come from either the Delhi government or somebody who represents the interests of the common man.

Earlier in 1997, the Supreme Court had directed the Delhi government to freeze the number of auto rickshaw permits in Delhi in the case of MC Mehta v. Union of India. The cap was enhanced to 1 lakh autos in 2011. Following, no modification has been made.

The counsel appearing for Bajaj contended that the freeze was meant for two sear autos having twin-stroke engines which is outdated technology. Nonetheless, currently all the autos have become CNG-based which is a clean technology.

Meanwhile, the counsel for Delhi submitted that while she is not opposing the plea, the latest report of Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) in this regard is five years old. The counsel suggested that the matter should be referred to the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) for a fresh report.

The EPCA in 2019 had recommended the removal of the cap stating that lack of adequate public transport system, including first and last-mile connectivity led to increase of private ownership of vehicles, causing more pollution and congestion. However, the top court bench refused to interfere at the behest of an industry entity with business interests.