The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was considering banning new diesel-guzzling luxury cars and SUVs from hitting Delhi roads, asserting it would not allow the rich to buy such vehicles that polluted the air and affected public health.
“Why should a rich man travel in a diesel car and pollute the environment,” a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur asked, adding that the proposed restriction, on an experimental basis, would be on diesel variants with an engine capacity of over 2000 cc. Existing diesel cars can continue to ply.
The restriction could be in place for three-to-four months — an extension of the national green tribunal’s recent order banning diesel car registrations in Delhi till January 6 — and would apply to all of the National Capital Region. The bench will pass formal orders on Wednesday.
Speaking of the need for a multi-pronged strategy to clean the city’s notoriously toxic air, the court listed other proposals — switching taxis, including Ola and Uber, to the cleaner CNG; banning pre-2005-registered trucks from entering Delhi; cracking down on the burning of municipal waste; and paving roadsides to prevent dust from flying.
It also said it was thinking of doubling the environment compensatory cess it had imposed in October on trucks entering Delhi. The current green cess stands at Rs 700 for light duty vehicles and Rs 1,300 for three-axle vehicles in addition to toll tax. These may be hiked to Rs 1,400 and Rs 2,600, respectively.
The proposal, if made formal, would hurt luxury car-makers across the board as most of their best-sellers are diesel-driven. For instance, the smallest diesel engine for segment leader Mercedes is 2,143cc. There would be no sale of popular vehicles such as Toyota’s Innova, Mahindra & Mahindra’s Scorpio, the Tata Safari and Sumo, and Mitsubishi Pajero during the ban period.
But brushing aside the Automobile Traders Association of India’s stiff opposition to the ban proposal, the CJI said, “You are businessmen. All you are thinking of is money. You have to make sacrifices. Here, people’s health is involved.”
When Dushyant Dave, counsel for the association, pointed out that no city in the world had banned diesel, the CJI remarked, “The most polluted city must ban it.”
Dave also claimed personal diesel cars contributed to just 1.86% of total pollution, to which the bench said the association was thinking “myopically” about the issue.
Earlier, amicus curiae Harish Salve told the court 23% of cars registered in Delhi ran on diesel and emitted 7.5 times more particulate matter than petrol variants and produced more toxic nitrogen dioxide.
Delhi currently has 8.5 million vehicles — up 97% from 2000 — and adds 1,400 new cars to its streets every day, contributing to a hazardous blanket of smog.
The Delhi government, on its part, reiterated measures it has already announced to curb pollution — vacuum-cleaning of roads by April and phasing out two thermal power plants at Rajghat and Badarpur.
However, the court turned down its request for a judicial order on its odd-even car formula, saying, “Go ahead and do what you think needs to be done. We cannot say anything on it. We are not too sure this is the only way. This is one of the measures. It is for you to implement.”
The CJI — who had earlier backed the AAP government’s odd-even move — however said he wouldn’t hesitate to car pool with his “brother judges”. The bench also asked the SC registry to provide a bicycle stand as demanded by senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP KTS Tulsi, who has been cycling to Parliament these days.