J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday declined to extend the time limit to phase out 15-year-old transport vehicles in Kolkata from August 1.

A Bench of Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan and Justice B. S. Chauhan, declining to stay the operation of the Calcutta High Court order banning the plying of such vehicles beyond July 31, issued notice to the West Bengal Government and other respondents seeking their response to special leave petitions challenging the order.

The CJI told counsel for the petitioner, Bengal Bus Syndicate and others, “You say that the order had already been implemented. Now vehicles are off the roads. Granting extension of time limit and allowing you to operate the vehicles again at this stage will create further confusion and complete chaos. Ultimately it [the order] has to be implemented. Why do you want to postpone?”

The West Bengal Government by a notification dated July 17, 2008, had ordered that 15-year-old or older transport vehicles (taxis, stage carriage vehicles, omni buses, trucks, mini trucks and goods carriages, including three-wheelers and auto-rickshaws) should not be allowed to operate and that the Motor Vehicles Department should not renew their permit after the expiry of the stipulated time.

The Calcutta High Court by its orders dated July 18, 2008, and March 17, 2009, directed implementation of the notification. The present SLP is directed against these orders. The petitioner submitted that the State Government had no power to fix the age limit of vehicles at 15 years as such power was vested only with the Central Government. Moreover, operators were not given an opportunity and not heard by the High Court, he said, pleading for a stay.

The SLP, seeking to quash the impugned orders, pointed out that even if 15-year-old transport vehicles were prohibited from plying in Kolkata, there was no mechanism to prevent older transport vehicles coming from other States into the city. Therefore, the reason for prohibiting such vehicles was not clear.

It further said that vehicles older than 15 years could be allowed to ply if they maintain the mass emission standards for vehicles as prescribed in the relevant law. If the notification was allowed to be implemented, about 10,000 buses would be off the roads and some 70,000 people would be rendered jobless.

Raktima Bose reports from Kolkata:

Bengal Mini Bus Owners’ Syndicate spokesman Udayan Sarkar told The Hindu on Monday that, acting on a verbal suggestion by Justice B. S. Chauhan of the Supreme Court that the bus owners should have challenged the ban order at the High Court itself, the Banijyik Paribahan Bachao Committee would shortly file a petition against the order.

Nearly 50 per cent of the 9,000-strong fleet of private buses and mini-buses in Kolkata and suburbs have been off the roads since August 1 in compliance with the High Court order.

In a bid to mitigate the inconvenience being caused to commuters the State Government plans to introduce 100 new Volvo buses under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by the end of this month along with the already existing 1,500 Government buses running on the city streets.

Those directly and indirectly associated with the running of the buses that have been taken off the roads find themselves in a difficult situation.

“We will not run the pre-1993 buses according to the High Court ban, but alternative employment options have to be devised by the State Government for all those who lost their livelihoods,” said Swarnakamal Saha, secretary of the Bengal Bus Syndicate.

Pointing out that each new BS III bus costs about Rs.15 lakh, Mr. Saha said that replacing the entire fleet of 4,500 buses with BS III models would be impossible unless the Government steps forward with incentives and easy loans.

Kali Ghosh, secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said those rendered unemployed by the vehicle ban could be employed on the newly acquired buses rotationally.

The Calcutta High Court rejected a petition filed by the Trinamool Congress-backed Auto Bachao Committee against the State Government’s notification of legalising auto-rickshaws manufactured after August 1, 2000, that have been converted to LPG mode.

Meanwhile, the drive to seize any pre-1993 vehicle on the city roads continues.

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