Saturday, December 2, 2023

NGT’s order on diesel vehicles noteworthy 

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On July 20, the National Green Tribunal directed that diesel cars in Delhi should be phased out in stages. This is part of a long list of landmark orders to clear up the capital’s air   

By Dinesh C Sharma

Diesel is bringing automobile companies to their knees the world over. Volkswagen has been forced to cough up $14.7 billion in settlement for the diesel emission fraud case in the US. In the UK, a leading think tank—Institute of Public Policy—in its new report has suggested that diesel vehicles must be banned in London if the UK is to meet its air pollution targets. BMW has delayed the introduction of its new diesel versions following the scrutiny of diesel vehicles by the US Environment Protection Agency. Diesel subsidy was a hot election issue in recent federal elections in Australia.

People guard against breathing Delhi’s polluted air
People guard against breathing Delhi’s polluted air. Photo: Anil Shakya

In India, diesel carmakers are facing uncertainly over their future business with a spate of court orders against diesel-run cars and commercial vehicles. Even as the case seeking to ban registration of new diesel-run luxury cars lingers in the Supreme Court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered immediate deregistration and scrapping of old diesel cars in the national capital.


In a landmark order on July 18, the apex green court directed Delhi’s Regional Transport Office (RTO) to deregister all diesel vehicles older than 10 years so that they stop running on Delhi roads with immediate effect. However, on July 20, the NGT bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar amended its own order saying the phasing out of diesel cars should be done in stages, beginning with the de-registration of diesel cars which are older than 15 years and the ones which are only BS-I and BS-II compliant. The petition was filed by Delhi-based lawyer Vardhman Kaushik.

Diesel vehicles which are 15 years old will have to be scrapped altogether. They will not be allowed to run outside the Delhi-NCR as well. Transport authorities have been asked not to issue No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) for such vehicles. Deregistered diesel vehicles which are less than 15 years old, however, will be issued NOCs to ply in regions outside NCR. Such areas will have to be identified and notified by authorities based on factors like low density of vehicles or higher dispersion of air. This is to ward off criticism that Delhi’s air pollution problem will only be shifted to other areas as deregistered diesel vehicles from the capital could be used there. The NGT has directed Delhi RTO to issue NOCs only for vehicles to operate in areas which have been identified by states.


People holding placards at an awareness campaign against pollution at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Photo: UNI
People holding placards at an awareness campaign against pollution at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Photo: UNI

The NGT’s strong directive to RTO follows the inability of the police and transport authorities to implement its April 2015 order in which the Tribunal had directed authorities to prevent diesel vehicles more than 10 years old from running on Delhi roads. The Delhi Traffic Police informed the Court that it was issuing challans and levying monetary penalties to owners of cars violating the ruling. But, as the NGT bench noted, such measures have hardly been successful. “It is also stated that vehicles are released by the magistrates after imposing fine under the Motor Vehicle Act and the vehicles surface again on the roads,” the bench noted. The RTO will make a list of vehicles registered 15 years ago, issue a public notice and hand over the list to the Delhi Police for action.

The Delhi government’s counsel informed the bench that over 3,000 old diesel vehicles were impounded after the April 2015 order of the NGT. In addition to levying penalties under the Motor Vehicles Act for running vehicles older than 15 years, the bench directed that “such offenders would also be liable to pay Environmental Compensation of `5,000 per violation on the basis of ‘Polluter Pays Principle’.” The money thus collected by the traffic police should be deposited in a separate account that would be maintained by the Delhi Police or NCT Delhi as the Chief Secretary of Delhi may decide.

It is not as if the judiciary or the NGT are reacting in a knee-jerk fashion. Over the years, several directives have been issued and it was only when government agencies failed to implement them that the NGT in the present case took a strong view.

The NGT had already banned 10-year-old diesel trucks and buses in Delhi in April last year. Following this, the state government stopped renewal of permits for 10-year-old commercial vehicles. In addition, the Supreme Court had in December 2015 banned the registration of diesel-run SUVs and high-end cars with an engine capacity of 2000 cc and above in Delhi and NCR. The ban was for a period of three months but was later extended without any deadline. Auto companies as well as the central government have argued that such cars may be allowed to be on the road subject to a payment of a green cess, which could be one per cent of the vehicle’s ex-showroom price.


Even now, the Tribunal is actively prodding the executive to take requisite decisions to ensure that the general public is not put to trouble. Revocation of registration and ban on restrictions on moving older vehicles to other cities would mean that old cars and taxis will have to be scrapped. For this, the government needs to license scrapping or recycling agencies which can deal with old cars and also provide some compensation to people who will have had to abandon their diesel cars. For this, the NGT bench has directed the Delhi Development Authority to allot land to set up a scrapping plant. The heavy industries ministry has been directed to file an affidavit on the status of electric and hybrid vehicles in the country, and on the proposed policy for old vehicles.

A vehicle spews out smoke on a street in London. Photo:
A vehicle spews out smoke on a street in London. Photo:

However, the NGT ruling may be challenged as already indicated by taxi unions, transporters and other parties. The NGT bench in Kochi had banned diesel vehicles older than 10 years in six cities in the state (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kochi, Thrissur, Kozhikode and Kannur). The ruling was challenged in the Kerala High Court, which in June this year granted a stay. This provided a respite to the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation as well owners of private buses and cars.


The High Court had also stayed the Tribunal’s directive restraining the state government from registering new diesel vehicles of 2000 cc and above except that of the public or local authorities. While granting the stay on the ban on diesel vehicles, the Court referred to arguments of the transporters that the air quality in Kerala was much better than in Delhi, and in addition, data was not available about the air quality in the six cities.

Diesel is certainly in trouble for causing pollution in Indian cities and this time round, the judiciary is in a mood to solve the problem permanently.

Lead Picture: Anil Shakya

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