New Delhi: The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to double the green tax on commercial vehicles entering the city in a bid to curb air pollution in the national capital by discouraging such vehicles from using city roads to avoid tolls on alternate roads.

The order, which will include more immediate steps to be taken to reduce pollution, is expected on Wednesday.

The court was hearing petitions seeking to address air pollution issues, where Harish Salve, amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, had suggested a complete diesel ban and imposition of a one-time charge on purchase of diesel vehicles, saying that they were the biggest cause of pollution.

According to a study released by environment research organisation Centre for Science and Environment on Tuesday air pollution claims at least 10,000 to 30,000 lives a year in Delhi.

Air pollution is one of the top 10 killers in the world and the fifth leading cause of death in India, said the study titled Body Burden 2015: State of India’s Health.

On 9 October, the court levied a green tax or environment compensation charge of Rs700 on light commercial vehicles and Rs1,300 on trucks. This is set to double to Rs1,400 and Rs2,600, respectively.

A bench comprising chief justice T.S. Thakur, justices A.K. Sikri and R. Banumathi poured over maps of Delhi to find out the routes avoided by commercial vehicles to save toll charges.

CSE in October released a study which showed that many trucks pass through Delhi to avoid higher toll charges on other routes.

“It is cheaper to travel through Delhi than to take these alternative roads. The reason for this choice of route is that these roads are toll roads and charge according to rates decided by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). The road that cuts through Delhi has a lower charge that is based on rates decided by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi," the CSE study said stating that trucks save about 1,500 per trip.

“We are increasing it (ECC) by 100%," justice Thakur said. “Rs700 is becoming Rs1,400, Rs1,300 is becoming Rs2,600."

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the CSE, welcomed the move. “How big the impact will be on trucks is tough to say but it becomes much more expensive and if there are alternative routes available, economics will definitely play a role. Polluter pays principle is important to give right signals to market. So, I think it is a very god concept. It helps in changing behaviour and prices," she said.

The court also proposed to stop registrations of sports utility vehicles and luxury vehicles (with engine capacity above 2000cc) for the next three months.

Vishnu Mathur, director general of industry lobby Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, said such a ban won’t improve air quality but will affect the sales of companies selling such vehicles due to ambiguity in the policy.

“This will have no impact on air quality. They comprise very miniscule percentage of pollution. The Delhi government study given to the court proves that," Mathur said. “This decision will hit investment. Some companies are going to get very badly hit. They will not know what is the policy that India is going to adopt. They will be confused. We will be able to further comment on it after reviewing the court order."

For taxi services like Ola and Uber, the court is likely to direct a complete shift to compressed natural gas (CNG) from diesel. It is also likely to order the civic bodies in Delhi and the central government to ensure that no waste shall be burned in the city. Further, the court may stop vehicles older than 2005 from entering the city limits.

Earlier in the day, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) also asked the Delhi and the Central government to identify the polluting agents and the action being taken to curb them. The NGT agreed to hear pleas from car dealers who challenged the diesel ban imposed by the tribunal last week on 16 December.

These car dealers, represented by lawyer Pinaki Misra, sought exemption from the NGT’s order banning diesel vehicle registrations for their existing stock. Misra said that their cars were Bharat Standard (BS) IV compliant. BS IV refers to permissible exhaust emission from vehicles. These car dealers are set to lose about Rs2,000 crore and 8000-10000 cars which they have in their stock.

The NGT also backed the Delhi government’s odd-even car day policy but called for multi-dimensional action to curb pollution.

Amrit Raj contributed to this story.

Close