The Supreme Court indicated on Monday that it might consider relaxing its order banning diesel cabs from plying in the NCR (National Capital Region) after the government said such bans, including the one on registration of 2,000cc diesel vehicles, affected the Make in India policy.
A bench headed by chief justice TS Thakur said any modification would depend on the road map the Delhi government and the Centre would submit to phase out such vehicles. The court asked the SC-appointed panel, Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), to give suggestions on the plea by the two governments against the ban. It will hear them at 3.30 pm on Tuesday.
The court refused on April 30 to extend the deadline for such cabs to switch from diesel to CNG. Nearly 50,000 taxis have gone off the roads after the order, forcing the affected drivers to disrupt and block traffic.
The ban has also led to inconvenience for commuters as cab aggregators Ola and Uber have been forced to cut their fleets. Diesel cabs operating for these aggregators mostly have an All India Tourist Permit which does not allow them to provide point-to-point service.
The EPCA says these taxis are violating permit conditions and most of them operate for the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry.
Besides the government, industry body Nasscom has also moved the top court, complaining the order has crippled the BPO sector’s business.
Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar strongly supported Nasscom and said the order adversely affected the government’s economic policies. He said the Centre also wanted the ban on registration of diesel cars to be lifted. Kumar said it was a mere assumption that diesel was a major pollutant of the Capital’s air whereas there were other factors, too.
The bench said it might lift the ban but insisted it would impose an environment cess on the purchase of luxury diesel vehicles. “Primarily, we are of the view that diesel vehicles cause more pollution than other vehicles. We may be right, we may be wrong. We are open to modifying it,” the bench said, extending the ban to July as the hearing remained inconclusive.
“We may start a symbolic cess on any person who is buying a diesel vehicle which would be a one-time cess. What should be the scale, price, engine capacity is the thing to be deliberated upon. There has to be a rational basis to decide that.”
Kumar asked the bench if it was fair for the judiciary to judge a government policy.
“We can look into other causes, but you can’t undermine the vehicle pollution on account of diesel vehicles,” the bench told the law officer, asking him to come out with suitable solutions to combat pollution.
Kapil Sibal, appearing for Nasscom, argued the ban on diesel cabs and registration of 2,000cc cars affected the BPO industry. He said taxis such as Toyota’s Innova accounted for 40% of cabs used by the industry.
“Nation is suffering collaterally. We are suffering globally. It will have ramifications throughout the world,” Sibal said.