Age is no bar for commercial vehicles, Calcutta High Court ruled on Wednesday, overturning the government's ban on 15-year-old wheels.
Acting on a petition filed by the Bengal Bus Syndicate and other organisations, Justice Jayanta Kumar Biswas set aside the ban imposed by the state transport department, observing that the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR) do not allow a vehicle to be debarred on the basis of its age.
The order, however, does not negate an earlier verdict of the court that all old vehicles would have to comply with tailpipe emission norms, as fixed by the Centre.
In 2003, the Centre had formulated a National Auto Fuel Policy and outlined tailpipe emission norms applicable to both Bharat Stage (BS) II and non BS-II vehicles. Vehicles abiding by the norms cannot be barred from plying, irrespective of their age, the petitioners argued.
According to Prabhat Kumar Chattopadhyay, representing one of the petitioners, the judge also struck down an amendment to Rule 88A of the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Rules, 1988, which had empowered the state government to restrict renewal of permits of vehicles 'beyond a particular age' and in a 'particular area'.
The government is unlikely to contest the order, officials said. An appeal could set off a backlash among the 100,000-odd employees of private commercial vehicles, mostly controlled by Citu, before the Assembly polls.
The notification on the ban on pre-1990 commercial vehicles in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area had been issued by the transport department on May 24, 2005. The public vehicles department has not been renewing permits of such vehicles since January 1, 2006.
The owners moved court against the notification, arguing that the state government was not empowered to ban vehicles on the basis of the date of their registration.
The transport department has now been asked to renew the permits of all pre-1990 vehicles that had come under the ban, provided the other conditions for renewal are met.
Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha said: 'We are happy with the verdict. The government was virtually applying force to scrap old vehicles.'
Bengal Taxi Association general secretary Bimal Guha claimed: 'It's not true that all pre-1990 vehicles pollute the environment. Let the government seize the polluting ones.'
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty had earlier linked the 'unpleasant (phase-out) decision' of the government with 'pressure from the Centre to cut auto emission'.
Wednesday's court order has left environmentalists unhappy. 'There are two ways to curb auto-emission ' introduction of green fuel and use of modern technology through phase-out of old vehicles. The first option has not materialised and the second has hit a roadblock,' grumbled an environment department official.