NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday pressed the alarm button on devising ways and means to arrest the rampant pollution of Delhi’s ambient air by over 50,000 trespassing trucks every night. It gave just three days to the Centre, the Delhi government and municipal corporations to chalk out a viable plan.
The green bench comprising Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justices Arun Mishra and Adarsh K Goel was in agreement with amicus curiae Harish Salve, who moved the application informing the court that 52,146 commercial vehicles (excluding taxis) entered Delhi every night using the national capital as a transit route mainly to save on the toll they would pay if they used alternative national highways.
Salve argued that the court had always inflicted penalty on such violators, who pollute Delhi’s air by using the city as a transit route, applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which over the years has got embedded in constitutional jurisprudence.
He said Delhi had earned the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in India and “something urgently and on a sustainable basis” needed to be done. He proposed an entry fee of Rs 1,200 for big trucks and Rs 600 for every small commercial vehicle.
The bench said, “We all feel the pollution all the time. We want response from the governments within three days and will take up the matter for hearing again on Thursday. We want positive response from them and a viable plan to make things better.”
However, it asked Salve whether imposition of hefty entry fee on trucks would solve the purpose. Salve said, “It will straightaway stop at least 10,000 trucks from entering Delhi.”
Environment Protection (Pollution and Control) Authority through advocate Aparajita Singh presented a grim picture about the trucks and said between May 16 and June 31, a mere 0.1% of the trucks using Delhi as a transit route were turned back.
The EPCA said another reason for trucks using Delhi roads to go to other states was the non-completion of Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways. Both are expected to be completed by July 2018 after inordinate delay, it said.
“The daily average number of light and heavy goods vehicles that enter and exit from the nine main points is 85,799. The total commercial light and heavy duty trucks entering and leaving the city is 115,945 each day,” it said.
He said the resultant pollution cast a huge financial burden on the Centre and the Delhi government in taking measures to maintain ambient air quality in Delhi and provide healthcare to suffering citizens. On the other hand, these polluting trucks used Delhi roads as a transit route to save on toll charged on alternative routes, he said, terming it as unjust enrichment of truckers at the cost of citizens’ health.
Salve said Delhi’s ambient air quality most of the time crossed the danger mark, a situation which in foreign countries would have triggered closure of schools and stoppage of traffic till the pollution level came back to normal
“The NCT lives with much higher levels of pollution on a daily basis at the best of times. Winter is fast approaching and no steps have been taken since last year, in spite of assurances to the Supreme Court. It has become necessary for the SC to pass some orders, which will save the lives of NCT residents,” he said.
In February last year, Salve had startled the SC by presenting a report which established a direct link between death of 3,000 children annually in Delhi to the increased pollution level, attributable mainly to more diesel cars on the roads.
He had said subsidized diesel price was almost at par with CNG, leading to a massive increase in sale of diesel cars. As a result, emissions had directly contributed in taking the ambient air quality in Delhi much beyond the danger level, especially the level of harmful respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM).