Worried Supreme Court open to proposals to ban diesel cars in Delhi

With pollution rising the national capital, Chief Justice T.S. Thakur urged the authorities to sit together with the experts to reach a “common acceptable” solution.  

Noting that uncontrolled air pollution in Delhi is earning a bad name for the country, the Supreme Court said on Thursday that it was even willing to examine suggestions such as banning diesel cars in the national capital.

In a free-wheeling hearing, a Bench of Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justice R. Banumathi tried to gauge the essence of the problem, at one point even asking the municipal corporations, the Delhi government and the Centre why trucks not meant for Delhi should even enter the city.

Wondering whether the Centre and the Delhi government were “pulling in different directions”, Chief Justice Thakur urged the authorities to sit together with the Bhure Lal-led Environment Protection Authority and experts to reach a “common acceptable” solution.

Reacting to amicus curiae Harish Salve’s submissions about the polluting effect of diesel cars and how the government should introduce economic disincentives against buying them, Chief Justice Thakur said, “We cannot take on the economic policy ... but if you want to stop plying of diesel cars in Delhi, you tell us, we will examine it.”

Additional Solicitor-General Pinky Anand submitted that diesel cars contributed only a miniscule to the pollution. Ms. Anand listed other factors such as trucks and construction work.

At this point, Mr. Salve highlighted how the eastern and western peripheral roads meant to divert trucks away from Delhi had been under construction for the past several years. “This is a perennial problem. Even inside the Supreme Court, the level of air pollution has increased from 60 to 600 micrograms per cubic metre,” Chief Justice Thakur said. The CJI scheduled the case for detailed hearing on December 15 when Justice A.K. Sikri too would join the Bench.

The Bench said it would examine an “equitable” option to have the Delhi government reimburse toll contractor SMYR Consortium Ltd. for expenses incurred in collecting environment compensation charges from commercial traffic.

However, the Bench asked the municipal corporation to be ready with a back-up plan in case the toll contractor “runs away”. The Bench did not pass any orders while agreeing to hear SMYR on December 15.