The iconic Hindustan Motors Ambassador taxicab like the one above, has old technology for its diesel engine variant and is now bound for the scrap yard as the National Green Tribunal slams a ban on older diesel vehicles in Delhi.


In a bid to control rising levels of pollution the National Green Tribunal recently directed the Government of Delhi’s Transport Department to deregister diesel vehicles that are more than 10 years old, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj. – @siliconeer #siliconeer #delhi #pollution #india #dieselvehicles #society


The ruling that would hold good for Delhi and the entire National Capital Region (NCR) comprising Noida, Greater Noida, Noida Extension, Faridabad, Gurugram (formerly Gurgaon), and other adjoining areas was initially passed, April 7, last year.

Swatanter Kumar, chairman of National Green Tribunal (NGT) as well as head of the bench responsible for passing the directive announced that Delhi’s regional transport offices (RTOs) would be tasked with issuing public notices and for provision of a list of deregistered vehicles to the city traffic police that would in turn take action against pliers of deregistered vehicles as per the Motor Vehicles Act.

The directive is based on the widely acknowledged premise that diesel vehicle emissions are more dangerous to the environment as compared to emissions from petrol and compressed natural gas vehicles.

The order is likely to affect a large number of vehicles as a 2014 estimate shows that Delhi has close to 8.9 million registered passenger vehicles, of which approximately 220,000 diesel passenger vehicles and 170,000 commercial vehicles are more than a decade old.

An affidavit filed by the government before the Supreme Court last year reveals that diesel vehicles make for over 90% of sports utility vehicles, 34% of small cars, and 70% of large and medium cars in the whole country.

The above are not the only orders per rulings attempted at lowering pollution.

A series of orders have now been passed — in 2015 the Supreme Court had banned registration of diesel cars and SUVs with engines above 2,000 cc in Delhi-NCR.

Additionally, in order the check noise pollution, the bench has nullified the use of air pressure horns or horns not fixed by the manufacturer of the vehicles including two wheelers.

Earlier in 2015 the NGT had sought to control air pollution from fuel emissions, construction sites, burning of waste and burning of agricultural residue.

But as in the ruling under discussion the NGT bench has also directed the central government to file an affidavit on the availability of electric and hybrid vehicles besides framing a scrappage policy to incentivize purchase of hybrid and electric vehicles by those who wish to dispose of their old vehicles.

The Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways’ “Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Management Program” (VVMP) aims to extend fiscal benefits such as excise duty rebate on the next purchase, cash back offers and/or discount coupons by certain manufacturers to owners of old commercial and private vehicles who give them up willingly.

Since the ban tends to impact everyday life of almost every citizen reactions have come in from all quarters.

Indian taxi drivers and owners shout slogans against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a protest in New Delhi, May 4, against the banning of diesel cabs on the roads in the Indian capital. Hundreds of taxi drivers and owners took to the streets of New Delhi to protest a court order banning diesel cabs from plying the roads of the world's most polluted capital. The ban would impact some 27,000 diesel taxis registered in Delhi, including app-based cab operators Ola and Uber. (Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images)

Indian taxi drivers and owners shout slogans against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a protest in New Delhi, May 4, against the banning of diesel cabs on the roads in the Indian capital. Hundreds of taxi drivers and owners took to the streets of New Delhi to protest a court order banning diesel cabs from plying the roads of the world’s most polluted capital. The ban would impact some 27,000 diesel taxis registered in Delhi, including app-based cab operators Ola and Uber. (Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images)

Sounding a loud cheer are environmentalists, especially the Center for Science and Environment, and the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles who see it as a larger strategy to control uncontrolled diesel emissions in the personal segment.

However, the scrappage package has been criticized as wrongful use of public exchequer for private purchase of a new car.

Citing the Minister for Road and Transport, Nitin Gadkari’s statement that VVMP will boost the automobile industry’s turnover over four-times in the coming five years, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director CSE said that VVMP would result in jacking up the sales of automobile industry and thus further addition to cars on the road thereby diminishing the effectiveness of the NGT ruling.

However, the ruling has taken a toll on fresh investments in the car making industry such as Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s top car manufacturer.

Another Japanese maker Honda too expressed disappointment with slump in diesel car sales and stated that it is “not able to plan confidently” for the future due to the hazy scenario over diesel variants.

Though the overall auto-sector lobby is yet to comment on the whole issue the country’s top car manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki’s chairman, R.C. Bhargava aired his misgivings over the ban achieving the goal of improving air quality in Delhi-NCR.

His emphasis is that both the car making industry and 200,000 car owners would bear the brunt of the ban and that it was extremely unfair of the tribunal to have not given any chance to the users to present their case while reducing their assets to “scrap” in one stroke.

To support his views he cited the latest scientific study conducted by the premier Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur) that notes that cars contributed only 2.2% of the overall air pollution in Delhi.

Bhargava said, “Around 200,000 car owners, who would be impacted by the order in the Capital, had done nothing wrong and complied with the law while buying these vehicles. Suddenly they find without being heard that their asset has just become scrap. I don’t know how far that is fair, how far that is justified as far as those people are concerned. It is (vehicles) their means of livelihood, it is their means of going to their business. Suddenly without any opportunity being given to them they have been told you can’t use these (vehicles). So I feel very strongly that this is not fair to them.”

Analyzing the ruling, it can be said that the hasty nature of enforcing the ban must have resulted in the tribunal overlooking some aspects such as the facts that other than in major cities where Bharat Stage IV fuel is available, the rest of the country uses old BS I-III fuel and compliant engines which are old technology and emit high levels of Sulphur Oxides and Nitrogen Oxides, chief causes of lung and breathing problems.

BS III is 16 years older technology than the BS VI (or Euro VI) technology, currently prevalent in Europe, BS IV is 11 years behind BS VI technology.

Therefore, without a proper rollout of BS IV quality fuel it is futile to replace old vehicles with new ones based on old technological standards.

It has been learnt that the Center is planning to challenge NGT order and challenge the fixing of any age to declare a vehicle unfit or too polluting to ply.

In most developing nations fitness test and compliance of vehicles to the standards are the sole criteria for allowing vehicles to ply.

Pushp Sikand, who commutes daily from his Noida home to Gurugram office says, “It is not illegal by the law to maintain and ply a fit vehicle even if it is an old one. People who are maintaining vehicles well even after 10-15 years should not be punished. The vehicles which need to be taken off the roads are the ones that do not meet the standards even in the first 4-5 years.”

As in any other developing nation, the transport system is not very well developed in the country and also there are numerous car owners who hardly use their vehicles and maintain them well to abstain from making new car purchases.

It would be more sensible for the government and tribunal to not punish law-abiding citizens but sort out the credibility issues of pollution clearance authority.