New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday banned diesel vehicles that are over 10 years old from the Indian capital and its surrounding areas, moving to curb hazardous automobile emissions in a city that a World Health Organization (WHO) study has found to be the most polluted in the world.

The order, applicable immediately in the so-called National Capital Region, will have to be implemented by the governments of Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh and they are expected to file a response with the tribunal over the next few days.

A previous order banning all vehicles over the age of 15 from plying Delhi’s roads is yet to be implemented, raising concerns over whether the new order will be.

NGT, formed in 2010 to deal speedily with cases related to the environment, expressed concern over the use of diesel vehicles, calling them a major contributor to air pollution in the city of almost 10 million people.

A bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar noted that countries such as Brazil, China and Denmark had either prohibited diesel vehicles or are in the process of doing away with them and imposing stringent taxes on their owners.

“We have already noticed that certain stringent measures need to be taken to ensure that residents of Delhi do not travel closer to ill-health with each breath they take," the bench said in its order. “Thus, we direct all diesel vehicles, heavy or light, which are 10 years old will not be permitted on the roads of Delhi NCR."

The order is the second in less than five months by the tribunal towards improving air quality in the capital, but it may run into snags in implementation. On 16 November 2014, NGT ordered all vehicles that are more than 15 years old from plying on Delhi’s roads, but little headway has been made towards implementing it.

These two bans apply to both private and commercial vehicles. The tribunal, which will next hear the matter on 10 April, asked the transport authorities for a list of all diesel vehicles registered more than 10 years ago.

“It has been pointed out that diesel is the prime source of bringing air pollution in Delhi. Diesel fumes cause damage to the lungs, brain and can cause even cancer. The situation is so alarming that medically people have even been advised to leave Delhi," NGT observed.

Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 are in India, with Delhi at the top, according to a recent WHO report.

A Hindustan Times report on Tuesday said vehicles entering Delhi will be checked at the borders for pollution, weight and age from Wednesday.

Local commissioners appointed by the tribunal will conduct surprise checks, said the report. According to a 30 November report by DNA newspaper, Delhi has more than 2.9 million vehicles, including 800,000 cars and other four-wheelers, and 2 million motorbikes and scooters that are more than 15 years old.

NGT on Tuesday expressed its displeasure with the authorities for not taking sufficient action to implement its orders to improve air quality in Delhi.

“All authorities and the state have utterly failed to comply to the directions of the tribunal. Authorities have not even initiated action for compliance. Due to the increasing pollutants of air, the life of residents of Delhi is becoming more vulnerable to various diseases and the greatest sufferers are young children," the bench said.

NGT’s order came on an application by petitioner Vardhaman Kaushik, who had cited the rising pollution level in the city.

Environmental lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay, who was representing Kaushik, said: “It is a very important order to bring Delhi’s air pollution in control. What has been disappointing is that despite repeated orders by the tribunal, their implementation by both state and central authorities has been poor. We argued that while Western countries are banning diesel vehicles, we are not having any check on them."

According to Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment, the move will have a substantial impact in improving air quality.

“Basically, removal of one diesel car from a fleet in the city means removing 5-7 cars from petrol fleet in terms of pollution. Diesel emission is also in the same bracket as tobacco smoking. So if you are reducing diesel emission, you are reducing toxicity of emission. But now, focus would be on implementation of this and that certainly will be a challenge," Roychowdhury said.

NGT’s decision also makes a case for the auto manufacturers that for long have been lobbying with the government to implement a cash-for-clunkers scheme, which will encourage owners of older vehicles to buy new ones.

“Rather than courts making it mandatory, the government should be setting up an incentive scheme," said Vishnu Mathur, director general, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam).

Siam has called for a policy under which vehicle owners would be offered up to 1 lakh tax rebate if they sell vehicles older than 15 years. The first stage of the scheme should cover India’s eight largest cities, and could see as many as 8.9 million passenger vehicles and 1.47 million commercial vehicles being scrapped, according to the automobile industry lobby group.

Mathur welcomed NGT’s decision but said that enforcement of the order will be a real challenge.

“We don’t even have data of the total vehicles in Delhi. But it is clear that older vehicles are the ones which pollute more."

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