New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday joined the ongoing battle against pollution in Delhi.

It slapped a ban on the sale of high-end diesel passenger vehicles till 31 March, made it mandatory for taxis to shift to CNG fuel, doubled entry tax of trucks into the city and took 10-year-old commercial vehicles powered by diesel off the city’s roads.

While it is not clear whether the actions undertaken by the apex court will be enough to fix the air quality in the capital, the measures are a setback for the automobile industry, whose sales have only just begun to pick up.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, justices A.K. Sikri and R. Banumathi, also ordered immediate paving of roadsides in the city and arranging vacuum cleaning of roads. The court reiterated that all construction activity in Delhi will have to meet Central Pollution Control Board norms.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Council, have also been ordered to curb burning of waste in the city.

The court also ordered the Delhi Pollution Control Committee to take stock of pollution levels in the city immediately and monitor it subsequently to verify the impact of the court’s orders.

In an order issued on Wednesday, the apex court imposed a ban on registration of diesel passenger vehicles of engine capacity of 2000cc and above in Delhi till 31 March—a move that will hamper the prospects of Indian auto makers such as Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.

During the year ended 31 March, auto makers sold 329,576 passenger vehicles with engine capacity of 2000cc or more, according to data provided by Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam). Of these, Mahindra sold 196,006 units. Delhi accounts for 7% of about 2.6 million passenger vehicles sold in the country every year. It has 8.5 million registered vehicles—up 97% from 2000—and adds 1,400 new cars to its streets every day.

The SC ban is applicable in the current year with immediate effect.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group, said his company will honour the decision of the Supreme Court and “develop vehicles that comply with their stipulations".

Mahindra vehicles such as Scorpio, Xylo, XUV 500 and Bolero run on engines with 2000cc or above.

“I have always believed that the Supreme Court is an institution that sustains our faith in social justice and democracy in India," Mahindra said. “So even if we believe the decision on diesel vehicles isn’t optimal, we’ll honour it and develop vehicles that comply with their stipulations."

He said the company believes that “when the going gets tough, Mahindra gets going", and that it will rise above challenges.

“We’ll surprise everyone with our resilience... just as we have done for decades," he added.

Auto industry body Siam in a statement said that it appreciates the concern of the Supreme Court on the high levels of air pollution, specially particulate matter emissions, in Delhi. However, it added that banning of private diesel passenger vehicles and sport utility vehicles of 2000cc engine capacity and above, is most unfortunate. “It will not bring about any perceptible improvement in the air quality of Delhi," Siam said.

The industry body said this order has been passed after totally ignoring the findings of the most recent study on pollution source apportionment for National Capital Territory of Delhi shared with the court, which mentions that vehicles account for only 20% of the pollution in Delhi, out of which only 14-15% is attributable to passenger cars. “This makes the overall pollution load of passenger cars a minuscule number of just 3%," it said.

Zakir Merchant, partner at law firm Khaitan and Co., said that the solution to vehicular pollution lies in migration to higher vehicle emission standards such as BS V and BS VI and urged manufacturers to file a review petition in the court. “The order of the court in part has directed a segment of luxury vehicles which in the ideal world would meet nitrogen oxide levels as per Indian standards," Merchant said. “It may be unfortunate for manufacturers to be banned who are meeting emission norms."

In its order, the court also clarified that no non-Delhi destined trucks can enter the city from national highways 1 and 8 and specified that no truck registered in 2005 or earlier can ply on the roads of Delhi and asked the state governments of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to use alternative routes.

On taxi services in the city state, the apex court said all taxis including Ola, Uber and such services plying under city permits should start using clean CNG fuel before 31 March.

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 they were the biggest cause of pollution.

According to a study released by Delhi-based environmental think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Tuesday, air pollution claims at least 10,000-30,000 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 700 on light commercial vehicles and 1,300 on trucks. On 15 December, this was doubled to 1,400 and 2,600, respectively.

However, passenger vehicles, ambulances and vehicles carrying essential commodities including food and oil tankers for Delhi are exempted.

Salve said the court’s orders will have to be followed notwithstanding the directions of any court or tribunal. “If the orders of this court are violated, it will amount to contempt of court," he added.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at CSE, termed the court order “welcome and decisive". “We are beginning to see stringent measures and the order sets the momentum for further action," she said, adding it’s high time the people of Delhi play their part in solving the problem of pollution.

“The court has done its bit; now people should also take part and do contribute. People of Delhi need to now leave their mindset of ‘my car’ and instead talk about ‘my health’. People, from being part of the problem, should become part of the solution," she added.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on 11 December had barred the registration of diesel vehicles in Delhi until 6 January and asked the central and city governments to consider banning the purchase of diesel cars with public funds.

According to news agency Press Trust of India, NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar said that the tribunal could consider modifying the order according to the top court’s directions.

“We will look into the orders of the SC and decide. We would like to be governed by SC order," a bench headed by justice Kumar said, while disposing a plea by car manufacturers seeking a modification of the NGT order.

apurva.v@livemint.com.

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