More than a year after the Centre introduced Bharat Stage (BS) III norms in 11 cities across the country, the Bengal government continues to allow registration of BS II taxis and buses in Calcutta.
According to a central notification that came into effect on April 1, 2005, and the latest amendment to the central motor vehicle rules, only BS III-compliant vehicles can be registered in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA). BS II vehicles are manufactured for the rural areas, where the BS III norms do not apply.
The state transport department, however, has persuaded the Centre to allow replacement of 1,000 old taxis with new BS II cars.
In its petition to the Centre, the state government had argued that BS III vehicles are costlier than BS II ones and that the hike in fuel prices had made taxis uneconomical.
It also told the Centre that there are 8,000 very old taxis, which it wants to phase out.
'We are unable to enforce a phase-out of pre-1990 commercial vehicles from the CMA because the high court struck down our order banning these vehicles. We're encouraging owners of old taxis to buy BS II cars, which are less polluting and which cost Rs 80,000 less than the BS III model,' said transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury on Sunday.
The transport department was earlier pulled up by Calcutta High Court for failing to control the high levels of automobile emission in the city.
Hindustan Motors, maker of Ambassador cars, has offered taxi-owners a Rs 50,000 discount on each new BS II car.
For the company, which manufactures BS II vehicles for use in the districts, the central nod could translate into a bigger market for its Ambassador cars.
Last year, too, the transport department had replaced about 500 taxis with BS II vehicles. 'Many of those cars were manufactured in the 1980s and were not very old. This time, we sought to replace only the oldest of the old vehicles,' claimed the transport secretary.
However, it is not just taxis that are being replaced.
In 2005, the transport department allowed registration of over 350 BS II buses belonging to its various undertakings, when it should have registered only BS III-compliant vehicles.
'All transport corporations continue to buy BS II vehicles on the grounds that BS III vehicles are not easily available and that there are problems of maintenance and availability of spare parts,' stated a senior transport department official.
The first to do so was Calcutta State Transport Corporation, which has bought over 200 BS II buses since early 2005.
The Calcutta Tramways Company has purchased 70 BS II buses. Now, the West Bengal State Transport Corporation has sought permission to purchase 50 BS II buses.
'It is not true that BS III buses and their spare parts are not available. Ashok Leyland has officially informed us that it is selling both BS III vehicles and their spare parts. The transport undertakings are not buying the BS III buses as there is a price difference of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh per vehicle,' explained an official.