The Supreme Court’s decision to not extend its deadline for banning all diesel and petrol-run taxis in Delhi-NCR is a step in the right direction as far as cleaning up its air is concerned. However, the authorities need to address the concerns of taxi drivers and inconvenienced commuters for the measure to be successful.
The judicial move led to protests by taxi drivers, causing a massive traffic jam on NH-8 at the Gurugram-Delhi border and a number of other arterial roads on a particularly hot Monday. The situation was further worsened by a shortage of taxis caused due to nearly 40,000 vehicles being taken off the roads. Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari has already promised taxi unions that he will request the court for another extension on the ban.
Justifying the tough stand taken by the judiciary, Supreme Court lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan said, “The apex court kept extending the deadline on their request, and finally lost patience. More than six months were given when they asked for more time to convert their engines to CNG. Suddenly, they brought forward an argument the day before yesterday that there was no technology for making the conversion.”
“Eighteen years is not a short period for taxis to convert from diesel to CNG,” he added, pointing out that the first decision on the matter was taken in 1998.
The court decision came on the back of several steps taken by the Delhi government to curb pollution levels in the Capital, including the adoption of a revolutionary traffic formula where odd and even-numbered vehicles were allowed to ply only on alternate days. Reports that pollution levels in Delhi were on the verge of crossing that of Beijing – the world’s poster-child of bad air quality – had set alarm bells ringing among environmentalists and city officials alike.
However, the apex court must take into account the practical implications that could prevent the smooth implementation of its direction. Commuters who relied on taxis during the second phase of the Delhi government’s odd-even scheme will have to find other alternatives if it is rolled out again. Cab owners, on the other hand, complain that the cost of converting their vehicles to CNG will burn a sizeable hole in their pockets.
Here are some interim measures that the judiciary as well as the government could consider to make the implementation process smoother. For one, diesel taxi owners can be permitted to retrofit catalytic converters to their vehicles, reducing the emission of pollutants. Alternatively, the government could ease the financial burden on taxi drivers by subsidising the cost of PNG conversion through funds from the clean environment cess introduced in Union Budget 2016-17.
To address the larger problem faced by the environment, the Centre should ease subsidies on dirtier fuels like diesel, making them more expensive. It could also reduce duties on hybrid and electric cars – providing consumers with a financial incentive to invest in cleaner technology.
It must be acknowledged that air quality degradation is a complex issue with more than just one cause. The government should identify every source of pollution, and with the knowledge gained, put in place a comprehensive plan that addresses the needs of the environment without hurting anybody’s livelihood.
(Views expressed by the author are personal)