In a significant effort to bring down Delhi's deadly air pollution level, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered the authorities concerned to levy an environment compensation charge of Rs 1,300 on heavy commercial vehicles and Rs 700 on light trucks, which enter the Capital from neighbouring states and travel through it spewing noxious fumes.
However, many experts felt that more steps should be taken to clean Delhi's air, instead of merely imposing fine on toxic trucks. The truckers want the government to seek review of the SC order.
The SC directed the Delhi government and MCD to levy the charges from November 1. However, passenger vehicles, ambulances and trucks carrying essential commodities and oil tankers have been exempted.
"Commercial vehicles entering Delhi spew close to 30% of the total particulate load and 22% of the total nitrogen oxide load from the transport sector. Around 23% of the commercial vehicles and 40-60 per cent of the heavy trucks entering Delhi use it as a transit route," said the bench headed by CJI HL Dattu. This is the second most significant anti-pollution intervention by the SC to help improve the air quality in Delhi after 1998, when it had directed conversion of the entire transport fleet to switch to CNG fuel.
"The Government of NCT of Delhi may issue an appropriate notification to levy the aforesaid charge forthwith which will be operative for a period of four months starting from November 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016 on an experimental basis," said the bench. This meant that NGT's October 7 order imposing such charge ranging from Rs 500 to 1,000 on polluting vehicles entering Delhi stood scrapped.
"A higher fine amount will help deter such vehicles from entering the city," Dr Gufran Beig, joint director, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
Some felt that the government should push peripheral highways to prevent trucks from entering Delhi. The western peripheral highway is still incomplete. The SC directive on fine came following a slew of suggestions forwarded by the SC-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) member Sunita Narain and senior lawyer Harish Salve, amicus curiae in the case.
They had pointed to a May 2014 report by the WHO, which found Delhi as the most polluted city in the world, and a November 30, 2014 report of the EPCA that said air pollution was the fifth-biggest killer in India after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution from cooking fuels, tobacco smoking and poor nutrition.
To make the agencies accountable, the bench said, "the Delhi government shall furnish accounts of the receipts and the expenditure incurred to EPCA and to this court each quarter. The governments of UP, Haryana and Rajasthan will provide large boards at the exit points towards the alternative highways".
Experts said it is only one of the steps towards addressing the problem. "This is a good shortterm measure. The revenue earned by the government from the move can be used for purchasing pollution monitoring equipment," said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Research and Advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment.
The toll committee of transporters said the burden of fine will be passed on to the consumers. "Essential goods like clothes, vegetables and pulses come in light vehicles. A yearly expenditure of five lakh will be incurred only as the pollution charge. Who would want to pay so much money additional to the toll? It would cost heavy vehicles above seven lakh as pollution charge," said committee's chairman GR Shannugappa.