Changing its stand twice in the past month, the Chandigarh administration has now allowed free run to diesel-powered three-wheelers until a policy on their operation is formed.
The administration took a u-turn from the earlier March 31 ban after a meeting with UT administrator Shivraj Patil on Tuesday.
During the discussions, Patil said a joint committee comprising the UT adviser and chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana would soon frame a policy regarding diesel auto-rickshaws.
He added that until the policy was framed, the diesel auto-rickshaws from Panchkula and SAS Nagar could ply in Chandigarh.
The administration had first decided that such auto-rickshaws would not be allowed to enter the city from November 1, leading to widespread protests by auto operators.
To put pressure on the administration, auto unions of Panchkula and SAS Nagar had even stopped entry of Chandigarh Transport Undertaking (CTU) buses in Panchkula and SAS Nagar.
However, soon after the agitations, the administration allowed the Bharat Stage III (BSIII) diesel auto-rickshaws to ply in the city till March 31.
It was in 2002 that the Supreme Court had issued directions for conversion of all public vehicles, including petrol- and diesel-driven buses, taxis and three-wheelers, to those run on compressed natural gas (CNG).
Later, in 2009 the apex court ordered for preparation of a scheme for compulsory switchover to CNG/LPG as automotive fuel. Subsequently, to make the city pollution-free, the Chandigarh administration issued an order for phasing out diesel auto-rickshaws by August 8, 2009, which was never enforced.
Diesel autos causing air pollution
The administration has surprisingly allowed the entry of the diesel autos in the city, despite the fact that they are one of the major causes of deteriorating air quality in the city.
During a press conference on Monday, UT transport secretary Bhawana Garg and UT environment department director Santosh Kumar kept harping on the ill-effects of diesel on environment.
Kumar told the media that the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels in the city had exceeded the permissible limit, and diesel auto-rickshaws were one of the major contributors to the air pollution.
According to officials, around 10,000 diesel auto-rickshaws bearing registration numbers of Haryana and Punjab ply in the city daily.
LPG auto operators taken for a ride
The Tri-City Auto Rickshaw Union has been at loggerheads with the administration over its failure to comply with the ban on diesel auto-rickshaws.
Surinder Bhardwaj, president of the Chandigarh Janata Dal-United, and also chairman of the auto union, alleged that authorities were hand in glove with the "diesel auto mafia".
He demanded an inquiry into why diesel auto-rickshaws were still plying despite a ban imposed by the Supreme Court.
Bhardwaj added that he would write to the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and ministry of environment and forests, besides moving court against the administration's decision.
"The LPG auto operators are feeling cheated as they converted from diesel/petrol auto-rickshaws to LPG on the assurance that only the latter would be allowed in the city. However, diesel auto-rickshaws continue to ply and eat into their share of income," Bhardwaj rued.