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Delhi autos: Supreme Court turns down Bajaj Auto plea against permits only for e-autos

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The Supreme Court today refused to quash the Delhi Government decision to the issuing of 4,261 new permits only for e-autos.

The bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna dismissed the plea filed by Bajaj Auto against the AAP government’s decision to issue over 4,200 permits to electric auto rickshaws citing the adverse effects of air pollution on residents of Delhi.

The Court noted that the fundamental right of Bajaj Auto had not been violated. “Amendment to Motor Vehicles Act cannot be read to mean that addition of e-autos on the road can be done over and above one lakh autos.”

Senior Advocate Basavaraj Pati, appearing for Bajaj Auto, submitted that CNG autos are BS VI compliant and the emission profiles have improved by 90% compared to BS 1 model.

The Delhi government opposed the petition filed by Bajaj Auto on the ground that CNG autorickshaws cannot be compared with e-autos. The State Government further informed that 92,000 CNG auto rickshaws have already been registered in Delhi and there is a continuous process of replacement of old CNG autorickshaws.

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The application deserves to be dismissed as amendment made to Motor Vehicles Act and Central Motor Vehicle Rules only relates to payment of registration fees, Advocate ADN Rao, who is amicus curiae in the case, submitted before the Apex Court.

Bajaj Auto, in its plea, had said that “two-seater rickshaw using a two-stroke engine” (TSR)  permits are presently a scarce commodity. To exclusively allocate them to one type of manufacturer, to the exclusion of all others, is arbitrary, without scientific, factual, environmental, or legal basis, and hence unconstitutional.

While the government may have the prerogative to give an impetus or select benefits to any technology (as a matter of executive policy), such impetus cannot come at the cost of totally shutting out other legally compliant existing technologies, i.e., CNG, alleged Bajaj Auto.

The plea averred  that huge amounts of public money have been invested to create CNG supply and distribution infrastructure in the NCT of Delhi. Around 427 CNG fuelling stations are presently available all around the city, and it has taken 20 years of investment of public and private funds to ensure the same.

“The State Government does not have the legislative or executive capacity to ban any type of vehicle technology, including on environmental grounds – such power is available only to the Central Government under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Therefore, the decision to allot available TSR permits to e-autos only also suffers from want of competence,”

-the plea reads.

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It is pertinent to note that by an order dated December 16, 1997, the Supreme Court had identified the TSR as a major pollutant in Delhi and had accordingly directed to “freeze the number of TSRs for the present at the level at which they are actually in use in the city”. Thus, the Court had restricted the grant of fresh permits in the city for TSRs, except by way of replacement of an existing working TSR with a new one.

By subsequent orders dated 28.07.1998 and 26.03.2001, the Top Court further mandated that all commercial vehicles plying in Delhi (including autorickshaws and taxis) mandatorily adopt CNG or other clean fuels in place of fossil fuels such as motor spirit / petrol and diesel. Later on September 17, 2001, the Supreme Court had clarified that no previous order prohibits the use of four-stroke auto engines on clean fuel.

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