The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Polluters can breathe easy, govt in charge

Calcutta, March 30: Calcutta’s hopes of having the air it breathes cleaned up were all but stifled today.

Flashing a draft notification from the Centre, the state government escaped the responsibility of having to enforce what would have been a far tougher auto emission control regime than it would now.

Calcutta High Court, which has been pursuing the government determinedly for a year to clean up the air, had to accept the norms mentioned in the notification because these would be national standards.

Conveyed to the state government on February 10, the notification has two sets of standards for tail-pipe emission — one for vehicles with Bharat Stage II engines and another for those that do not have BS-II engines. The emission norms for the second category of vehicles are obviously less stringent and only marginally tougher than those existing now.

For instance, for petrol vehicles the permissible limit for carbon monoxide emission is 0.5 per cent under BS-II and as much as six times for non-BS-II vehicles.

After today’s order, all vehicles — in all of Bengal — will have to conform to these two sets of standards from October 1.

“Do not enjoy this interim (six months) as a holiday,” a division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A.K. Bannerjee told the government.

“Ensure conformation (with the court’s order),” they added. The bench will review the government’s progress in the first week of October.

In effect, this means nothing is expected to change. Tail-pipe emission is measured by testing centres, the majority of which have been found to be below standard — if not downright fraudulent — by a survey conducted by the Pollution Control Board.

It is also common knowledge that around 80 per cent of the vehicles plying in the city do not conform to the existing emission standards. Environmentalists say there is no reason to believe owners of all these vehicles — and that includes the government — will suddenly start observing rules from October 1.

Emission testing centres will not change the way they operate nor will police who are vested with the responsibility to see vehicles comply with emission standards.

These are facts the court is fully aware of. It said: “Auto emission testing centres are not properly checked… There is a (monitoring) deficiency on the part of the transport department.”

Describing the government’s role as “highly disappointing”, the judges told its counsel: “You have not been able to make your own cars conform to BS-II norms…. How can you make the public follow the court’s orders'”

Implicit in this is scepticism about the government’s intention to enforce even the diluted national norms from what the court had set in its April 3, 2003 order. In that it had given the administration a year to make all vehicles conform to BS-II norms.

The current norms are in effect even more relaxed than what the government had submitted to the court as being prepared to do if given time. That would have involved large-scale shifts to LPG/CNG, as has happened in Delhi.

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