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Unprecedented court order

In an unprecedented move, the apex court on Wednesday banned the registration of all diesel SUVs and luxury cars with engine capacity of 2000 cc or more in the entire National Capital Region till March 31, 2016. Suffice to say, the ruling by the apex court is aimed at curbing the alarming level of vehicular pollution in the city. Although the decision is set to hit the automobile sector hard in the national capital, Mumbai-based auto manufacturer Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. has announced that it will honour the decision of the Supreme Court and “develop vehicles that comply with their stipulations”. The decision of banning diesel vehicles above 2,000cc engine capacity will mainly affect luxury carmakers. In its order, the apex court also ordered that those trucks not bound for Delhi will not be allowed to enter the national capital through National Highways 1 and 8. However, those carrying goods for Delhi will have to pay a steep Environment Compensation Charge (ECC). The amount payable by big trucks will be Rs 2,6000 and Rs 1,400 for light commercial vehicles, which is almost double the amount the court had set in October. The hike in ECC may indirectly increase the prices of commodities bound for Delhi market due to increase  in transportation cost. Moreover, all private taxis operating in the national capital have been asked to convert to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) by March 1, 2016. Keeping in mind ordinary commuters, though, the court has exempt small diesel cars. The apex court order follows the National Green Tribunal decision to stall the registration of new diesel vehicles in the national capital. Additionally, the NGT had also directed Central and state government departments to not purchase any diesel vehicles. Studies have shown that diesel-operated vehicles contribute a significant share to air pollution in Delhi. 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. Delhi’s air has become extremely toxic with smog shrouding the city’s air throughout the day. Particulate matter levels have also soared to often ten times the prescribed limits. Emissions from vehicles, especially those that run on diesel, have proved to be one of the major contributors to rising air pollution levels. In response, the Aam Aadmi Party government took the decision to allow cars with even and odd-numbered registrations on alternate days in order to cut down on vehicular emissions. The rule will be enforced from 8 am to 8 pm, except on Sundays, from the beginning of next year on a trial basis.

The court order seems to have understood that putting a premium on using roads is the only way to solve the problem of vehicular pollution. However, one is not sure whether the state has the institutional capacity to implement its proposal. The lack of adequate public transport to handle extra demand, an understaffed traffic police force to check violations and the counterfeiting of extra number plates are just some of the implementation issues that could arise. The AAP government has made it clear that it is the responsibility of the Delhi Police to implement the proposal. It has been well documented that the national capital suffers from a desperate shortage of personnel. A 222-page report by senior police officer Sanjay Beniwal prepared last year had pointed out the acute shortage of manpower in Delhi police. The total strength of Delhi’s police force is 77,894, of which 30,891 are deployed in 161 police stations spread across 11 police districts. For a population of 1.72 crores, it is clearly not enough. The active duty ratio is one policeman for 5,568 citizens, as per the report. The odd/even proposal, therefore, is an additional burden to an already under-staffed and overworked police force. The court must also take cognizance of this fact. A citizen’s propensity to buy two cars to sidestep the proposal is only the start of its problems.  Before ordering their citizens to forego their cars on particular days a week, especially women, the Delhi government and the Centre must work out the modalities to establish last mile connectivity. Although feeder buses do run from certain metro stations, there aren’t enough to fulfill the consumer’s need for last-mile connectivity. 
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