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Transitioning to cleaner technology

The Apex Court orders the automobile industry to not sell its unsold stock of BS-IV vehicles after April 1, 2020

Transitioning to cleaner technology

In a notable and decisive ruling, the Supreme Court has barred automobile industry from selling or registering any vehicle meeting Bharat Stage-IV (BS-IV) emissions standard–the current emissions standard in India—after the Bharat Stage-VI (BS-VI) emissions standards come into force on April 1, 2020. The SC Bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, while turning down the plea filed by the Centre and the automobile industry for an extra six-month window to continue to sell older technologies of BS-IV, underscored that in case of a conflict between health and wealth, health will have to be given precedence. The bench asked the auto industry to show the will, responsibility, and urgency.

This ruling implies that the automobile industry cannot build inventory and sell unsold stock of BS-IV vehicles after April 1, 2020. This sets aside the original BS-VI rules of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways that required only the new models to be "manufactured" as of and after April 1, 2020 to meet BS-VI emission standards and gave time to upgrade the existing models to meet the new standards. Now, BS-VI vehicle roll-out will start immediately from April 1, 2020. Auto industry cannot overproduce and create an inventory of BS-IV and continue to sell post this date. The industry cannot argue for their right to only "manufacture".

The Apex Court bench upheld the larger public health interest over smaller pecuniary commercial interest of the manufacturers. This ruling came after protracted high drama in the courtroom a few months ago where the automobile industry had battled for extra time to sell their unsold inventory of more polluting BS-IV vehicles after April 1, 2020. But the Amicus Curiae, Aparajita Singh, made a strong plea to oppose Centre's decision to allow industry time to sell their BS-IV vehicles beyond the deadline in the interest of public health.

This transition to BS-VI emission standards—a unique step in India to leapfrog by skipping BS-V standards and by advancing the timeline of its enforcement from the original proposal of 2025 to 2020—is expected to lower emissions from new vehicles by at least 80 to 90 per cent. Given that a vehicle remains on the road for a minimum of 10 to 15 years, it is critical that roll out of cleaner technology is not delayed. This will require the automobile industry to take steps in advance to stop production of BS-IV vehicles. An available report shows that several companies have already created capacity to produce BS-VI compliant vehicles and some of them are even exporting to European markets that meet the Euro-VI standards. Therefore, allowing sale of cheaper and more polluting BS-IV compliant vehicles after April 1, 2020 will put the progressive players at substantial price and market disadvantage and will be wrongly penalised due to continued dumping of older technologies.

Clearly, there is a crucial lesson and message in the judgment for the automobile industry: Walk that extra mile to address public health concerns, and do not take a narrow legal view to stall the transition to cleaner technology.

(The author is Executive Director - Research and Advocacy and head of the air pollution and clean transportation programme, campaigns for clean air and public health, Centre for Science and Environment. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Anumita Roychowdhury

Anumita Roychowdhury

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