Usurping a citizen’s private property may very well be considered a type of violence, especially when it is someone’s source of livelihood. Earlier this month, the West Bengal government did just that: It enforced a ban on cars older than 15 years to curb debilitating pollution.
The government, by making it illegal to drive these cars, has effectively destroyed the value of the vehicles—and, in the process, robbed many of their source of income.
By some estimates, 1,000 taxis and 70,000 autorickshaws have been banned from Kolkata’s roads. It is fair to want to control the pollution levels in Kolkata, and it is the government’s job to handle such externalities. Even though it gave car owners a one-year notice, the government should manage this trade-off between property rights and pollution control more equitably.
This is not the first time such a ban has been introduced— and it certainly won’t be the last. Pollution control must be a priority, especially as climate change, among other consequences from dirty gas emissions, is a very real threat. State governments should take notice of how— and how not—to manage such a trade-off.
The West Bengal government must provide some type of compensation or car swap scheme. This could take the form of the US’ cash-for-clunkers programme, where car owners are given rebates to trade in old cars and purchase newer, more fuel-efficient ones. The benefits of this are twofold: Polluting vehicles would be taken off the road, and economic activity—purchasing new cars—would be promoted.
In this tough economic climate, countries in Europe, for example, have started cutting back on the subsidies they give car owners to replace older, polluting cars with newer, cleaner ones. Governments such as West Bengal’s don’t need to provide such concessions indefinitely, but when they implement a massive ban such as this, they must consider at least short-term rebates.
Any proposal will obviously be costly. But the cost for citizens who have lost their vehicles has already been expensive. The government has no right to usurp a citizen’s property for a task—pollution control—that it should be managing itself.
Should the West Bengal government compensate owners of banned, polluting cars? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org