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Govt gasps for two-year grace
- Court frown on Centre, state and oil firms

The central government, state government and oil companies found themselves in Calcutta High Court’s line of fire on Friday.

The court took a swipe at the Centre and the oil suppliers for not taking steps to make compressed natural gas (CNG) available in the city to ensure Bharat Stage II compliance by April 2.

The division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A.K. Banerjee, also came down on the state government for not moving fast enough to implement the court order.

“The smoke and dust in the city’s air are so heavy that if somebody comes to work in an all-white dress, (he or she) returns in a blackish one,” observed the chief justice, highlighting the perils of pollution.

Advocate-general Balai Ray tried to convince the court that Bharat II compliance within the April 2 deadline was not possible, due to technical reasons, and hinted at the government requiring two years to clean up its auto-emission act .

“Diesel-run vehicles are facing the main difficulty, as they cannot switch over to CNG because of its non-availability in the region. If the oil companies can supply CNG in the city, the diesel-run vehicles can easily be converted, as has been done in Delhi and Mumbai,’’ Roy told the division bench.

“Why then did you not bring the matter to our notice earlier' We could have called them up and issued necessary directives. You remained silent throughout the year and are now citing different problems when only a few days are left before the expiry of the deadline,’’ the chief justice responded.

“If you can arrange for the supply of CNG in Mumbai and Delhi, why can’t you do so in Calcutta' Why this discrimination'’’ he then asked of the representative of the oil companies.

The reply that the supply of CNG to Calcutta pre-supposes laying of a long pipeline in the city, which is not feasible, did not find favour. “It is your responsibility how the gas will be supplied and you have to do it,’’ the chief justice said.

As the advocate-general tried to raise a few more points in the state’s defence, the chief justice carried on: “You have been talking year after year. This cannot go on. You have to do something concrete. Can you tell me what you have done during the past one year' How long will the people inhale black poisonous smoke'”

A representative of the Automobile Association of Eastern India (AAEI) submitted before the court that vehicles cannot be prevented from plying in the city if they maintain the emission standard specified by the Centre.

“The new standard will be notified in September. If any vehicle, be it five or 50 years old, maintains the standard, why will it be scrapped or switched to LPG'’’ he asked.

The case comes up again on Monday.

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