The Delhi government made little or no intervention to stop the registration of diesel vehicles in the last six months, even though the Supreme Court had made it amply clear in December 2015 that a ban on diesel taxis was coming. The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government did not make any considerable attempt to phase out diesel cabs, and innovative measures such as retro-fitment of particulate filters in these vehicles, which experts believe could reduce PM emission by 30% to 70%, were not experimented with.
When this correspondent contacted Delhi government spokesperson Nagendar Sharma, enquiring why no steps were taken to phase out diesel cabs over a period of time or convert them to CNG, he said, “Since the matter is sub-judice, we would not like to comment on that.” But a source, who is aware of developments in Delhi’s transport department, said there was visible callousness on part of the Delhi government in the last six months, as it was “busy” experimenting with the odd-even formula that banned vehicles with odd number plates plying on even days and vice versa.
“You can say that (the government was callous) to an extent,” the source told The Sunday Guardian, adding that the government was not pro active “because the government was busy with odd even, as we all know. In a way, it has focused all its attention and efforts towards that, in order to come up with a new plan altogether as solution to the city’s pollution levels.”
The Supreme Court on Tuesday came down heavily on the Delhi government for continuing to register diesel vehicles. “We understand people take chances despite knowing that there is a court order with a deadline to ban diesel taxis. But why did you go on registering diesel vehicles? Why don’t you stop registering diesel taxis?” a bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur asked senior lawyer C.U. Singh who is the government’s counsel.
The source said that the Delhi government showed no interest to stop registration of new diesel taxis. The general perception here is that the Aam Aadmi Party does not want to antagonise this section of Delhi’s population, largely considered his core vote bank. “What they (Delhi government) maintain is that the court is looking at it (so there is no need for that),” the source said, adding that there are other autonomous bodies also which are supposed to participate in the entire exercise, but who did not intervene. “As far as registration is concerned, the Delhi government does have a role in it. In reality, it has a major role in it,” the source said, not ruling out the possibility of factors such as exchange of speed money at the local level.
When Sharma was questioned why the registration of new diesel vehicles was not stopped, he told this correspondent that he would “not like to comment”. He refused to divulge any details of how the government plans to phase out diesel cabs, maintaining that “We (Delhi government) will inform only the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, on the question of impounding more than 10-year-old diesel run vehicles, the Delhi government has washed of its hands, saying it does not enjoy the required legal mandate. More than a month after state Transport Minister Gopal Rai said he would seek “legal rights” to impound such vehicles, no progress seems to have been made. On 21 March, Rai had said in a meeting with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh transport department officials that “We (Delhi government) will seek amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act so that the new law could give legal rights to transport departments to impound such types of (diesel-run) vehicles.” But when this newspaper asked Sharma whether the state has approached the Centre, or written any letter on this direction to the Centre, he repeated his earlier stance that “since the matter is subjudice, we would not like to comment on that”.
The ban on all diesel run taxis in Delhi/NCR, which came into effect from 1 May after the Apex Court refused to extend the deadline for the same on 30 April, is not a sudden development. The SC, in fact, first suggested the ban in 1998, when it cited in an order that commercial passenger vehicles must run on CNG in the national capital. The court pointed to the inaction of successive governments, including the current government of Arvind Kejriwal, saying, “eighteen years is not a short period for taxis to convert from diesel to CNG”.
The inaction became more underlined in the run up to the ban, as Kejriwal’s government, during the last six months, steered clear of the diesel taxi controversy in an apparent fear of offending its vote bank.
Experts believe retro-fitment of diesel vehicles with particulate filters or fleet modernisation are some of the steps, the government ought to have initiated by now. “The problem is that the conversion from diesel to CNG technology is not yet fully approved and is very expensive. The technology to retro-fit diesel taxis with particulate filters exists, and you can fit these diesel particulate filters in the old diesel vehicles and you can still get a reduction of 30% to 70% in particulate matter emission,” Sumit Sharma, fellow in The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), told this newspaper. He added that the government could also try “fleet modernisation programme”, wherein older vehicles are replaced with new vehicles. “The government can come up with a plan which suits different stakeholders,” he said, alluding to the dispersal of soft loans.
He also said that the government should focus on improving the public transport system, and that massive improvement is also required in the inspection maintenance system. “The PUC checks which we do are not enough. There is a very limited population of vehicles which goes for PUC testings. It is the question of enforcement, it is the question of vigilance. Results show that very less percentage of people are going for PUC checks. Also whoever is going, it’s not done in the manner that it should be done in order to control pollution,” Sumit Sharma said.