Calcutta, March 31: The Bengal government — its transport department, in particular — has played a huge hoax on the court and the people.
By presenting only one aspect of the three-pronged strategy that is an accepted international practice in controlling vehicular pollution, the transport department has got an order from Calcutta High Court that absolves it of all responsibility to take the harder steps.
Yesterday, the court gave an order that all vehicles in Bengal will have to comply with one of two sets of tail-pipe emission norms set by the Centre for Bharat Stage-II and non-BS-II engines. The court had little choice in the matter as this is a national policy that all states have to accept.
It was, however, not informed by the transport department that in other Indian cities, monitoring of emission norms is only one — and that, too, minor — part of pollution control. The most important is introduction of cleaner technology and cleaner fuel.
These two parameters were not brought to the notice of the court at all in spite of the fact that they — and not emission monitoring — have worked wonders for Delhi where commercial vehicles have mandatorily to use CNG. Delhi is now a model for other Indian cities, with Mumbai to follow in its footsteps shortly.
“Nowhere in the world is pollution controlled only through tail-pipe emission monitoring,” said an official of the environment department.
“Even in most of the cities under Supreme Court scanner regarding air pollution, the stress is on source reduction, through use of cleaner fuel like CNG or LPG and/or cleaner technology,” he added.
Attacking pollution at source is the strategy followed globally. In some countries, there is not even monitoring of emission quality. It means vehicles there do not need to sport the pollution under control certificate, which is required in Calcutta and has proved so ineffective.
Despite its established inefficiency, this monitoring remains the only weapon to control pollution after yesterday’s development.
A senior environment department official said: “Things can improve 20 per cent at best, after October 1.”
He explained why. “First, the exclusive dependence on monitoring and no provision of source reduction will only marginally improve the status quo regarding pollution.”
“Second, even if we assume that most of the vehicles will start to obey emission norms from October 1, the sheer magnitude of total pollutants will remain overbearing, especially if you keep in mind that the number of vehicles plying in the city is increasing every day,” the official added.
Environment officials said tail-pipe emission norms “could be one of the several important options” in reducing pollution, “not the only one”.
These options had been broadly enumerated by an expert committee on the basis of whose report the high court told the government to clean up its act in April 2003. After sitting on its haunches for the better part of a year, when the court repeatedly took it to task for not doing anything, the government set up a technical committee to show it was finally stirring.
This committee, too, had listed the options, only one of which was to implement tail-pipe emission norms. But since the intention appears to have been to only use the committee as a smokescreen, the report was not placed in the court. Some broad submissions were made about government preparedness to phase out old vehicles and convert others to LPG, if given time. These, too, have now gone up in smoke.
Environmentalists say the “environment department and the pollution control board have been taken for a ride by the government (transport department)”.
“It is significant that the environment department or the board was not made party to the case, though the entire matter pertains to the environment,” said one.
“It is just the order the transport department wanted. By taking the entire matter to the monitoring front, it could avoid taking hard and less popular steps. It is another matter that nothing is categorically said by the transport department on how the new norms will be met by vehicles that are 15 years old and even older,” the environmentalist added.