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SC stands by Delhi government’s call to register only electric autos

The bench rejected Bajaj Auto’s application challenging the validity of an October 2021 ad by the transport department of the Delhi government, inviting online applications for registration of 4,261 new permits for e-autos
“Residents of Delhi are affected by air pollution. Undoubtedly, a part of this is attributed to vehicles,” the Supreme Court bench said on Wednesday. (Parveen Kumar/HT)
Updated on Dec 16, 2021 06:33 AM IST
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Observing that the national capital is gasping for breath due to air pollution, the Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed the Delhi government’s decision to give fresh registration only to e-autos as it dismissed a plea by Bajaj Auto complaining against the exclusion of CNG auto-rickshaws.

“As it is, Delhi is gasping for breath, we don’t want to add another reason to it. How many contributors are already there? We can’t add one more on the asking of a manufacturer,” said a bench, headed by justice L Nageswara Rao.

The bench, which also comprised justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna, rejected Bajaj’s application that challenged validity of an October 2021 advertisement by the transport department of the Delhi government, inviting online applications for registration of 4,261 new permits for e-autos.

“Residents of Delhi are affected by air pollution. Undoubtedly, a part of this is attributed to vehicles. Even though CNG autos are BS-VI compliant, still there are some carbon releases,” noted the bench in its order, while adding that the Aam Aadmi Party government’s decision was also in compliance with the 2020 electric vehicle policy of the Union government.

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The court also junked Bajaj’s contention that the advertisement was arbitrary and discriminatory to manufacturers of existing CNG three-seater auto-rickshaws (TSR), besides restricting market opportunities to one class of vehicles over another, without rational basis or intelligible differentia.

“We don’t agree with the applicant that the advertisement is in violation of their fundamental right, for there are 92,000 CNG autos on roads in Delhi. Replacement of those can be done by vehicle manufacturers,” said the court.

It further clarified that exemption granted to e-autos and other battery-operated vehicles from registration under the amended Motor Vehicles Act and the rules framed thereunder cannot mean addition of e-autos can be done over and above the cap of 100,000, as fixed by the Supreme Court in its judgment in 2011.

During the hearing, Baja Auto argued that the 2011 top court order did not intend to put a cap on number of TSRs running on clean fuel such as CNG or electricity. It added that the new TSRs are BS-VI compliant and has improved to 90% as compared to BS-I model.

Opposing Bajaj’s plea, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, said that CNG auto-rickshaws cannot be compared to e-autos, adding there is a proposal to switch to electric vehicles with a view to decarbonise the transport sector.

“92,000 CNG auto-rickshaws have already been registered in Delhi and there is a continuous process of replacement of old CNG auto rickshaws,” Mehra said.

Senior counsel ADN Rao, who assists the court as amicus curiae, also sought dismissal of Bajaj’s application, arguing that the amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act exempts registration of e-autos and talks only about payment of registration fees.

The court took on record the submissions of the Delhi government and amicus, holding that the decision to register only e-autos “cannot be said to be arbitrary”. It also noted in its order that there have been requests to life the cap on CNG autos in Delhi but that issue will be decided in a separate proceeding.

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