The Supreme Court is likely to take a call on Monday on pleas filed by the Centre and industry body Nasscom seeking a modification of its April 30 order banning diesel taxis from plying in Delhi and the National Capital Region.
On April 30, the SC ordered that no diesel cabs would ply in Delhi and the NCR and refused to give them more time to switch to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a decision that affected over 27,000 taxis.
Aimed at bringing down pollution levels in the Capital that has earned the tag of the world’s most polluted city, the top court’s first order against diesel-run commercial vehicles came in December.
The Centre and the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) voiced concern over the fallout of banning diesel cabs, saying it had hit the flourishing Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.
Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Thursday BPO units that hired diesel cabs to pick and drop employees could consider moving operations out of India if the ban continued.
“The court order has given rise to security concerns as women employees need to be dropped at night,” Kumar said.
“It (order) has badly affected them. If the BPOs move out of the country it will affect the economy,” he said.
In its plea filed in the SC on Friday, Nasscom said the ban had crippled their business because non-availability of cabs made staff movement impossible. It had “jeopardised the ability of its members to service their clients,” said the industry body.
Nasscom said there had been poor staff attendance since the ban was imposed and led to a dip in the quality of BPO service for their overseas customers. There was a severe threat to local business because the work might go to competitor locations such as the Philippines, it said.
BPOs are a $25 billion industry in India, of which the NCR contributes around $5 billion. The sector employs over 250,000 people in the NCR who are ferried mostly by diesel cabs. According to Nasscom, if the ban continues for six to nine months, the industry faces a potential loss of $1 billion.
On Thursday, the SC had asked if companies could hire CNG buses.
“It is not feasible,” Kumar said, adding, “The employees have to be dropped outside their houses. Women workers cannot be left on the roads because buses can’t enter small lanes. It is a matter of security.”
The court asked Kumar to suggest how its order could be complied with. The Delhi government – which on Tuesday sought more time to phase out diesel cabs – also has to submit a detailed plan for the court’s consideration on May 9.
On behalf of the city’s radio taxi operators, senior advocate Nidhesh Gupta told the court that his clients were CNG-compliant.
“Radio taxis strictly operate under the Delhi government rules that categorically state they have to run on clean fuel. The same rule does not apply to vehicles registered under All India Tourist Permit (AITP). But instead of ferrying tourists, these AITP cabs run as local taxis,” Gupta said.
The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) – an SC-appointed panel – said diesel taxis could be allowed to phase out over the next five years.
Informing the court about the EPCA’s meeting with Delhi government officials and other stakeholders, advocate Aparajita Singh on Thursday said a final decision was likely to be taken to register only petrol and CNG cabs.