The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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When court gets tough, govt gets going

Calcutta, Dec. 23: Worried by the judiciary’s tough stand on vehicular pollution, the state government today lined up an action plan that could act as its defence against charges of going slow on ensuring cleaner air in the city.

Officials from various agencies put their heads together to come up with a package of proposals, less than a week after high court Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A.K. Bannerjee hauled up the government for showing no signs of implementing the new auto-emission norms.

One of the main features of the plan is the decision to exert pressure on oil companies to have ready pumps where Calcuttans can get liquefied petroleum gas for their vehicles.

“We want to create more pressure on the oil majors so that they have an adequate number of LPG-supplying pumps in the city,” public vehicles director and joint secretary in the state transport department H. Mohan said.

Officials said the oil companies were throwing up several excuses for not having adequate LPG-supplying pumps. One of the excuses was current demand for LPG was not enough to necessitate so many pumps.

“But I think we have managed to convince them (the oil majors) that a steady supply of LPG for vehicles will automatically boost the demand as Calcuttans will see in this an easy way of complying with the stringent anti-pollution norms,” a state transport official said.

“We have decided to set up at least 70 LPG kit-fitting centres in the city to help car owners switch over to a cleaner fuel,” he added.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty went into a huddle with senior officials of his department on Friday, soon after the Calcutta High Court division bench hardened its stand against vehicles not meeting the Bharat Standard-II norms by April 2004.

Insiders said the meeting followed a “push” from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s office, which insisted the transport department prepare a “face-saver” that would convince the judiciary that the government was intent on cleaning up the city’s air.

Sources said Chakraborty directed his officials to speed up the process. He reportedly told the officials that the hard stand taken by the court had left the government with few options.

Today’s meeting — involving officials from the transport department, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, car-makers and oil companies — was a follow-up of the Friday session, those present at the meeting said.

But officials seemed intent on keeping a route open that would help them escape the court’s wrath if the guidelines were not implemented by April.

“So many vehicles and so little time” — an excuse repeated so many times and rejected by the judiciary on every occasion — is still the mantra for the “do-it-now” government in case it fails to impose the anti-pollution norms on time.

The Bengal government’s decision to involve other agencies also smacks of an attempt to apportion blame if matters do not work out within the deadline the court has set, officials said.

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