The Sri Lankan cabinet's decision to ban the import of two-stroke engined three-wheelers by 2008, and their spare parts by 2011, because they are "polluting", has been challenged in the Supreme Court through a Fundamental Rights petition filed by the All-Island Three Wheeler Drivers' Welfare Association and its President, Lalith Vithanage.
The case is of great interest to India, firstly because 90 per cent of the 318, 659 three-wheelers in Sri Lanka are two-stroke engined machines manufactured by Bajaj Auto, and secondly because the "vested" interests mentioned in the petition may well be promoting Chinese and Pakistani makes.
Petitioner Vithanage told Hindustan Times on Monday that the rivals being promoted were the 4-stroke engined "Sunmo" from China and "Pak Hero" from Pakistan.
The petition says that the cabinet had not taken the decision on any scientific or empirical basis, but on collateral considerations and under the influence of vested interests.
It complains that the ban threatens to destroy the lives of 860,379 people who are dependent on the three wheeler directly.
Conversion to 4-stroke engined vehicles that the government was insisting upon, would thrust a heavy financial burden on the owner-drivers who were mostly lower middle class people, Vithanage said.
He pointed out that the Bajaj two-stroke vehicle was popular because it was easy and less expensive to maintain than the four-stroke engined ones.
The petition says out that if pollution were really the yardstick, then the ban should be applied to other polluters also.
But buses, lorries and vans, which pollute much more than the three wheelers, have not been brought under the purview of the ban.
The government had set emission norms in 2003, to be met by all classes of vehicles, but till date, these have not been insisted upon, the petition points out.
The Bajaj two-stroke engined three wheelers are not polluting per se. Like any other vehicle, they will pollute if they are not properly maintained, Vithanage points out.
Bajaj Auto had said that governments should not determine technology, but only prescribe emission norms.
The Bajaj two-stroke wheelers could meet these norms with better maintenance and the use of the right inputs, the company had said in a recent statement.
Government's decision had been taken on the basis of a false propaganda that two stroke engined three wheelers were banned in Delhi. But the truth is that emission norms are being enforced there, with public transport being made to use the less polluting CNG as fuel.
However, the dark cloud has a silver lining. The new Sri Lankan Minister for Environment, Champika Ranawakka, has said that a committee will be appointed to go into the issue afresh.