NEW DELHI: The Centre on Monday asked the Supreme Court to lift the ban on registration of diesel vehicles of over 2000 cc engine capacity and said it was in the process of coming out with a policy to phase out all four wheelers that were 10-15 years old to combat rising air pollution.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi also opposed the top court’s suggestion to impose a one-time cess on the purchase of diesel cars even as a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur reserved its verdict on the car manufacturers’ plea to lift the ban.
Agreeing with the court on the cess, the companies proposed a 1% levy on the ex-showroom price of a car.
Informing the court about its draft policy to buy back old cars, Rohatgi said a formal notification to make the scheme effective involving a “huge financial outlay” would be issued in 2017.
He said the ban had drastically affected FDI investments and jobs.
At this the bench remarked: “Are you (Rohatgi) appearing for the car manufacturers or the government.”
The top court had in December 2015 unveiled a slew of measures to clean Delhi’s air. Among them was a ban of the registration of diesel SUVs and luxury cars.
In subsequent hearings, the bench indicated it would impose environment compensation charges on the purchase of any diesel car that is more polluting than a petrol-driven vehicle.
Rohatgi said there was no rationale to support the contention that bigger diesel vehicles caused more pollution. “On the contrary, the bigger cars such as Land Rover and Audi have better emission norms than smaller vehicles,” he said, submitting that the government could study the effects of such four wheelers.
“It is not that diesel is a devil. We can’t do away with it (diesel). It is used all over the world,” he said.
In response to a query, the AG said under the proposed policy each owner of phased out cars would be paid an approximate cost of Rs 50,000 each. He explained the government will not gain anything from the exercise because the phased out cars will be treated only as scrap material.
Commenting on the government’s policy, the CJI said the court had no problem with it. “You can do that. We are not keen on imposing a very high cost. But people who are buying these cars, who are going for diesel cars must know they are causing pollution,” it said.
The CJI recalled the 1998 court order that made it mandatory for all buses to operate on CNG. He pointed out there was resistance initially but subsequently all accepted the decision because it was in the larger interest.
“Government cannot be seen as opposing a move by court to cleanse the atmosphere”, Justice Thakur observed, justifying the move to impose a cess on diesel vehicles in the capital.