By banning the registration of diesel-run SUVs and luxury cars over 2,000 CC, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional dictum that general public interest overrides the personal interests of a few in the society.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur has made it amply clear that its decision to ban high-end diesel cars is to put a temporary stop on the affluent classes from polluting the environment.
The order observes that the ban will not pinch the common man or even the “average citizen” and would only affect the rich. It is in this spirit that the Supreme Court has exempted the light commercial vehicles from the ban, agreeing that they supply essentials, mostly to the ordinary man on the Delhi streets.
The court has noted that it is a few rich who are using these cars, becoming a threat to the life and health of the larger public. Under Fundamental Duties enshrined in Article 51A (g) of the Constitution, every citizen has a duty to “protect and improve the environment.”
It is in light of this duty that the Supreme Court has put this restriction on the affluent consumers in the society. If the ban is meant to work to improve the environment and restore the health of citizens at large, it comes under the protection of a “reasonable restriction” under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens.
In 1981, during the formative era of the public interest litigation, Justice P.N. Bhagwati in S.P. Gupta vs Union of India case articulated that the concept of PIL is to address the legal wrong or legal injury caused to the fundamental rights of a person or a determinate class of persons unable to come to court for poverty, helplessness or disability or socially or economically disadvantages.
This order also breaks a historic barrier by making citizens, albeit affluent ones, accountable for the suffering of their less-advantaged fellow citizens. Usually the constitutional courts use their powers under Articles 32 and 226 to direct the State to perform its duties. But here, the apex court has also made the citizen liable to the citizen.