Finding a taxi in Delhi could become more difficult as nearly 50,000 diesel cabs will be off the roads in the national capital region (NCR) from Sunday. The Supreme Court ruled on Saturday that all diesel-run taxis must convert to green fuel CNG.
The top court refused to extend the deadline for commercial passenger vehicles to switch to CNG by April 30, a ruling aimed at reducing pollution in the Capital that has been ranked number one on a WHO list of cities with the foulest air.
Also, the ban on registration of diesel vehicles of 2000cc and above continues as the top court did not conclude its hearing on petitions challenging the restriction. The case will be heard again on May 9.
“We are conscious and firm about our order. This argument of you having liabilities will not hold good. Ply these vehicles wherever you want to but not in Delhi-NCR,” a bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur said at a special hearing on air pollution.
The taxi operators had pleaded for leniency, saying they were saddled with financial liabilities and have to altogether discard their cars as no technology is available to convert diesel-run vehicles to CNG.
“In 1998, the SC said commercial passenger vehicles must run on CNG. Why did you buy diesel cars? We can’t keep extending deadlines,” the court said.
The ban will impact 35,000 diesel taxis registered in Delhi and app-based cab operators Ola and Uber. Ola has more than 5,000 diesel vehicles on its platform while Uber has 8,000.
The court exempted taxis with all-India tourist permit (AITP) from switching to CNG if they operate outside NCR.
The court-appointed environment panel has asked the city government to take an undertaking from AITP operators that they will not run their cabs on local routes to ferry people from Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and other satellite towns in NCR.
This will bring down the availability of cabs in the Capital as most diesel taxis ply on local routes.
Carmakers tried to argue that their new fleet is Euro-IV emission compliant. “In Europe, your tall claims of vehicle emissions have fallen flat. They have turned to be false,” the bench said, referring to the Volkswagen scandal without naming the German automaker.
The court had made it mandatory on December 16 last year for taxis to shift to CNG. It doubled the entry tax of trucks entering Delhi and ordered that 10-year-old commercial vehicles powered by diesel will be off the city’s roads.
On March 31, the court extended the deadline for diesel-powered taxis to move to the green fuel.
As an incentive for commercial CNG vehicles, the bench on Saturday exempted them from paying environment compensation cess at toll booths before entering Delhi.
The court ordered the city’s transport authority to get 250 Delhi Jal Board water tankers to replace the existing fleet, which is more than 10 years old. It also permitted the Delhi Police to purchase 190 new diesel vehicles with more than 2000cc engine capacity on payment of 30% cess to the state pollution control board.
The Centre got a piece of Chief Justice Thakur’s mind on a suggestion to retrofit engines of old diesel vehicles. “You people sit in air-conditioned offices, sip coffee and do nothing,” he said.
Delhi transport minister Gopal Rai directed officials to catch diesel-run cabs plying on locals routes in the Capital on Sunday.
“We will deploy our teams at several points. If a diesel cab is caught, our officials will ask commuters about the pick-up point and their destination following which it can be ascertained if it is following rules,” an official said.