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Court locks govt to clean-air deadline

Calcutta, Dec. 12: All vehicles plying in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA) will have to comply with Bharat Stage II norms or switch to LPG or CNG by April 2, 2004, the high court has said.

Rapping the Bengal government sharply on the knuckles for its “dilly-dallying tactics” in implementing the new auto emission norms, the court said the deadline set earlier for compliance would not be extended.

The court expressed its disgust over the government’s effort to “subvert” the entire process of cleaning up the air in the designated area, which comprises Calcutta, Howrah town and parts of North and South 24-Parganas and Hooghly districts adjacent to the city.

It described as one more “ploy” of the government to delay enforcement of the emission norms the plea of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, which wanted to be added on as a party to the case and sought extension of the deadline.

The division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A.K. Banerjee, promptly dismissed the plea and said the court was firm in its decision to not extend the deadline. “This is a government-sponsored petition,” the chief justice said.

“The state government is merely trying to delay matters by engaging other parties in the case. But their move will not succeed. I was aware that the government would do such a thing as I had read it in an English language newspaper (The Telegraph). I will not allow any extension of the deadline.”

The auto emission case was initiated by automobile technologist S.M. Ghosh who had sought the court’s intervention to make vehicles switch to less polluting engines or environment-friendly fuel. In response to this, the court had set up an expert committee to review the situation and suggest ways to check pollution caused by vehicular emission.

In its report, the committee said over 80 per cent of the pollution in the city was caused by auto emission. It had suggested the phasing out of vehicles more than 15 years old.

The court, accordingly, had asked the state government to prepare an action plan and explain how it proposed to go about phasing out old vehicles. But when, even one-and-a-half years after the court’s directive, the government did not act, the high court set the April 2, 2004, deadline.

Today, the court said it had realised that there was no progress. “So far as I know, the state government has done nothing,” Mathur said.

“I have read that the transport minister, instead of doing something about it, has been telling the media that this (the April 2, 2004, deadline) is an impossible task. But let it be known that no vehicle which pollutes the air will move in the CMA after the deadline.”

The judges have asked the government to report to the court, on reopening after the Christmas recess, what steps it has taken in implementing the order. The court has also asked the Union government to state what it has done to set up CNG and LPG outlets in the CMA.

The association of petrol pumps has, in addition, been told to inform the court of the response it has received from the Union government on setting up such outlets.

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