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Above: Illustration by Rajendra Kumar

In an effort to stem air pollution, a scheme was introduced for NCR states to have colour-coded stickers on all diesel and petrol vehicles by October 2018. Delhi is yet to fix the gaps 

By Papia Samajdar

As the weather changes, there is a spike in air pollutants. This, coupled with the burning of farm residue by neighbouring states, has made Delhi’s air nothing short of a poisonous cocktail. Given the gravity of the situation, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has come down hard on the non-implementation of the colour-coded sticker scheme which identifies vehicles based on their fuel type and age. This is to ensure that banned vehicles do not enter or ply in the National Capital Region (NCR).

In a recent meeting, Bhure Lal, chairperson of EPCA, said that it would seek the Supreme Court’s intervention for enforcement of the coloured stickers’ scheme. The scheme is part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) which will help authorities identify banned vehicles. According to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), pollution levels need to be cut by 65 per cent to meet air quality standards.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways was supposed to have implemented the scheme by affixing hologram-based colour-coded stickers on all diesel and petrol vehicles by October 2018. Petrol and CNG vehicles are to get blue stickers; diesel vehicles, orange stickers, and all other vehicles, grey stickers. The stickers will serve as a third registration plate to be fixed on the left corner of the windshield from inside. The scheme is for all NCR states— Delhi, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan.

Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director and Head, Clean Air Campaign at CSE, told India Legal: “The sticker is the first step to identify vehicles based on fuel use, age and level of emission standards. Based on this identification, older and more polluting vehicles and diesel vehicles can be regulated during high emission days. Also, once the programme matures, more advanced action can be taken like introducing low emission zones to bar polluting vehicles from entering high pollution zones.”

Haryana has taken the lead and allotted colour-coded stickers to about 2.5 lakh vehicles. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have floated tenders to get agencies on board. According to Ashok Gehlot, Delhi’s transport minister, the Capital is yet to fix the gaps in the previous tenders and float a new one.

Delhi doesn’t need to be reminded of the smoggy days around Diwali when dust and pollution engulf the entire NCR. To manage the poor air quality, Delhi’s chief minister announced the odd-even scheme to be applied from November 4-15.

The implementation of GRAP has begun to show results. Recently, the Delhi government celebrated a 25 percent drop in air particulate pollution in 2016-18 as compared to the 2011-14 levels. The cut in pollution became possible when several measures were implemented. In October 2016, Delhi’s air quality reached alarming levels when pollution levels post-Diwali exceeded that of the infamous London smog of 1952. As alarm bells rang, the Supreme Court and governments—state and central—put into place the GRAP.

The GRAP was drawn up by the EPCA along with the Central Pollution Control Board as directed by the Supreme Court. It was implemented in 2017 as an emergency measure when Delhi’s air quality ranged from poor to severe. Under GRAP, a list of actions is to be implemented, depending on the air quality.

Though the government and enforcement agencies need to be lauded for their action, much needs to be done to clean Delhi’s air. The coloured sticker scheme to identify diesel vehicles older than 10 years and petrol vehicles older than 15 years is one such action. Old vehicles add to the deteriorating air quality and should not be allowed on roads. Banning them would be more impactful than the odd-even scheme.

According to an estimate by CARS24, an online site to sell and buy second-hand cars, approximately 38 lakh cars in Delhi fall under the banned category, out of which 1.5 lakh cars are in continuous use. According to government estimates, about 50 lakh cars must be provided with coloured stickers. Till now, 76,000 cars registered in Delhi after April 2019 have been allotted stickers.

The scheme began in 2015 when a National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar passed an order banning diesel vehicles older than 10 years and petrol ones older than 15 years. The ban applies to commercial and private vehicles. In October 2018, as Delhi’s air quality deteriorated to severe, the Supreme Court endorsed the ban and directed authorities to impound such vehicles. Following the Supreme Court Order, Delhi’s Department of Transport issued a public notice to stop plying of such vehicles.

To ensure implementation, the apex court order suggested de-registration of such vehicles by the transport department during permit renewal. However, that would only be targeted towards commercial vehicles. In 2018, the Delhi government also notified “Guidelines for Scrapping of Motor Vehicles in Delhi, 2018” in response to the Court’s orders. They came into effect from August 24, 2018 and were meant to assist enforcement agencies such as the traffic police, municipal corporations and transport departments to impound and scrap end-of-life (ELV) vehicles.

The guidelines would also promote scientific disposal and recycling of auto parts. Hazardous materials like lubricant oil and battery acid need to be disposed of in a safe manner to avoid environmental contamination and the  guidelines lay down the process for that.

The guidelines also lay down the eligibility criteria to become authorised scrappers. “Vehicle scrapping is mostly done in the informal sector but now the government has begun to issue licences to authorised centres for safe dismantling of vehicles. More such centres have to be set up or existing scrappers would need to upgrade,” said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, Manager, Air Quality and Public Health, at CSE.

Experts do not see these guidelines as foolproof. They believe vehicles need to be regularly checked for road worthiness as factoring in age alone is not enough. The Pollution Under Control (PUC) certification also requires reforms, as established by the EPCA in an audit. Currently, roadworthiness checks are only mandatory for commercial vehicles.

This hasn’t gone down well with consumers who have looked after their old cars well. Take Ajay Dua whose diesel car is nearly 10 years old. “I have done periodic servicing and timely checks. I took special care in keeping my engine clean. Now I feel all that was in vain. I am retiring next year and I don’t want to buy a new car,” he said.

The brunt of these actions is being felt by the second-hand cars market. Cars which have gone out of production are the worst impacted. An Indian customer typically uses his car for 15-19 years. Scrapping old cars is not a popular practice here. For one, it is yet to become an organised sector. Scrapping a mid-sized car will bring in anything between Rs 18,000-Rs 32,000. The resale value of the same car before the ban was between Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 4 lakh. Authorities need to be mindful of the fact that these banned cars might end up somewhere else in the country.

So in the end, who gains?

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