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One year and no more for gas

Calcutta, March 28: Buses, autorickshaws, taxis and old cars will be forced off city roads if they do not convert to CNG or LPG within a year.

The high court today said it could give no more than a year for cars that don’t meet the Bharat II emission norms and public transport vehicles to convert to the environment-friendly liquefied petroleum gas or compressed natural gas.

Rejecting the government’s report on how it planned to check automobile pollution, the Green bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Jayanta Biswas set the final deadline for the Bengal government to implement measures it had announced four years ago.

“We have heard enough of your intentions and how and when you want to go about phasing out old vehicles for the past several hearings. We now have no other alternative but to set you a final deadline to get all this in place and implemented,” Mathur told advocate-general Balai Ray. The written order will be served on the government on Thursday.

Ray, who placed the government’s final report on pollution control plans, was told that it should be taken back and its suggestions implemented before the deadline.

The court singled out auto-rickshaws and old diesel-driven taxis as “very polluting” and criticised the government for not making any effort to keep them out of the city.

“We have told you long back that these vehicles, especially 40 per cent of the autorickshaws, were severely polluting the air and needed to be barred from plying inside the city. I want these vehicles to go within the next six months,” the chief justice said.

The advocate-general pleaded that the government needed more time as employment was at stake. “My lord, these are run and owned by poor people and banning them will create a socio-economic problem, hence we need to tackle it carefully,” Ray said.

Mathur replied that “our intention is not to deprive anyone of their livelihood, but we want them to get the vehicles registered and run them with environment-friendly fuel”.

Subhas Dutta, an environment activist who has been co-opted by the court to help out with the case, observed that the state has been unnecessarily asking for more time at every hearing. “With over 20 hearings, there has been no outcome. The advocate-general, it seems, has not even read the report,” Dutta said.

Ray said he was yet to be properly briefed by the state government of its plans about the fate of old vehicles.

“Let that be, advocate-general, forget the state government, just tell me your personal opinion on the matter,” the chief justice snapped.

Advocate Bikash Bhattacharya, appearing on behalf of taxi-owners, said other factors also needed to be looked into. “We have to see that the other points in the report, like good roads and better signalling systems, are in place too,” he said.

Mathur agreed, adding that he would also look up the Supreme Court judgement on automobile pollution.

In all, there were 25 lawyers present in court on behalf of government departments and transport operators.

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