In an important development earlier this week, the National Green Tribunal directed Delhi authorities to begin de-registering all diesel vehicles in the capital that are more than 10 years old. The tribunal passed the order after noting submissions of Delhi Police which said that it has made continuous attempts to stop vehicles which were more than 10 years old from plying on the roads of the national capital. The traffic police submitted that in order to stop such vehicles, they have time and again issued challans and levied fine on offending vehicles but it has not fetched any result. This is because vehicles are released by the magistrates after imposing fine under the Motor Vehicle Act and the vehicles surface again on the roads. The problem clearly emanates from the lack of a legal framework in this regard. But more than a legal framework, concerns have arisen over Delhi’s institutional capacity to implement these orders.
The lack of adequate public transport to handle extra demand and an understaffed traffic police force to check violations are just some of the implementation issues that arise. Delhi indeed suffers from a desperate shortage of police and traffic personnel. Late last year, the Supreme Court had decided to double the green tax on commercial vehicles entering the city. But tax collection had proven to be a very cumbersome task due to the lack of quality and experienced personnel on the ground and poor technology. The cocktail of a poor regulatory structure and lax enforcement of rules will continue to haunt Delhi’s bid to reduce pollution levels. Unless efforts are made to address these institutional shortcomings in a meaningful way, these court orders will bear little or no significance. As the implementation of the National Green Tribunal’s order to ban over 10-year-old diesel vehicles in the city is likely to adversely affect the supply of essential goods and vegetables, the Delhi government is planning to come up with a “Scrap Policy”. It is a sensible policy aimed at providing tax relief and financial assistance to the transporters for buying new vehicles. Prior to this order, the green court had banned diesel vehicles that were more than 15 years old. It had also recently ordered diesel taxis to stop plying in the city, after instructing that diesel cabs had to switch to running on CNG.
According to a recent study by IIT-Kanpur study, at least, a quarter of all cars on Delhi roads run on diesel. Their survey in different parts of Delhi has shown that diesel cars are responsible for 60 to 70 percent of PM2.5 emissions from the vehicles. Another study by the Centre for Science and Environment has suggested that cars and two-wheelers contribute close to half of the particulate road from the transport sector in Delhi. Excluding trucks, their contribution rises to 76 percent of the transport sector particulate load, according to CSE. Most of these vehicles do not adhere to the vehicular emission standards. In fact, a majority of these vehicles run on a mixture of kerosene and diesel to save money. Studies have suggested that the amount of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in Delhi’s air rises late at night with the corresponding flow of diesel-run trucks.
The effects of RSPM, quite naturally, carry on into the early morning. Over 23 percent of the cars on Delhi roads run on diesel which produces much more carcinogenic nitrogen oxide than petrol cars. Particulate matter levels have also soared to often ten times the prescribed limits. Suffice it to say, diesel vehicles are merely part of the problem. There are other significant sources of air pollution such as road dust. Moreover, there are factors determining air pollution levels that are beyond the control of city officials. But resolving serious concerns pertaining to diesel vehicles is a serious step forward.
It’s a question of health. For the very first time earlier this year, the Centre asked for health to be the central focus of air pollution control in the country. The recognition of air pollution as a serious health issue is a significant step forward keeping in mind that air pollution control is currently managed and monitored by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change under the Air Act, 1986, which did not even have health risk mitigation as its stated objective. When an engine burns diesel, the exhaust it releases contains a mixture of gaseous materials and particulates, which cause cancer and various other diseases. In fact, doctors have told patients with respiratory ailments to leave the city due its poor air quality. With health included in the conversation on air pollution, there is a lot that governments can achieve.