It’s a common sight. During the dead of the night, a rickety truck is seen on the streets of Delhi spewing noxious black smoke into the night air. This is not unusual in a country where vehicles are seen as family heirlooms and passed down from one generation to the other. A ready market of spurious spare parts ensures that rickety old vehicles which would have died a natural death or been impounded in any other nation continue to roam the streets of the capital city. Noting that diesel is prime source of air pollution in Delhi, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 7 had held that all diesel vehicles which are more than 10 years old will not be permitted to ply in Delhi- NCR.
The Delhi government had responded to this order in typical fashion by appealing to the Supreme Court stating that there was not enough time to get these vehicles of the roads. Dismissing an appeal against the ban a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu said, “One tribunal is trying to do something which is good for people. Let us assist them and not discourage them. We are not interfering with their order.” The court further pointed out that this was not the first time that a state government was being asked to take old vehicles off roads.
Recalling an earlier judgement the bench said, “We remember the Andhra Pradesh High Court had passed such an order and the matter came to us in special leave to appeal. We dismissed the appeal and upheld the ban. So nothing appears to be wrong with what the tribunal is doing today. It is only repeating orders passed by the constitutional courts”. The Supreme Court’s endorsement of the NGT’s decision is a welcome reprieve for a city which has been battling the scourge of air pollution for ages. Delhi has been staring at a looming public health disaster for long now, with not much being done about it. It has the dubious distinction of having suspended particulate matter at levels that are nearly 16 times of what is considered healthy by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A large part of the blame can be placed on the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), both of which are directly responsible for ensuring clean air in Delhi.
All available data suggests that Delhi made tangible gains in the years after Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was introduced. However these gains were lost when the menace of diesel vehicles, especially trucks was not tackled in due time by the aforementioned regulatory bodies. There is still dim hope left for Delhi’s quality of air. That hope is however quickly going up in smoke, rising from the exhaust pipes of thousands of geriatric diesel vehicles. It’s high time the Delhi Government stopped shirking its responsibility in this matter and faced the issue head-on.