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True lies of tailpipe tests

One car, one day, five pollution checks at five auto-emission centres — and five results ranging from “pass with flying colours” to “dismal failure”.

In the seventh and final week of the Calcutta High Court-set deadline for the government to submit an affidavit on steps taken to curb air pollution, Metro set out for a reality check at centres providing pollution under control (PUC) certificates. These centres remain the cornerstone of the Bengal government’s claim to battling air pollution, given its reluctance to push for alternative fuel and other measures.

The fact-finding mission was carried out exactly 22 months after a similar operation by Metro, when three centres came up with three wildly fluctuating findings for one polluting car.

Nothing has changed since. On the morning of May 9, a fume-belching diesel taxi was taken to five centres across Calcutta...

12.13 pm, Surya Car Servicing Centre, BT Road

The washerboy doubled as emission-testing technician (the rulebook says certified mechanics must conduct the pollution test). A cursory test later, the results were out — a “pass” certificate (WB-01-1795801) with the tailpipe emission reading 28.9 Hartridge Smoke Unit (HSU) — way below the permissible limit of 65 HSU for diesel cars.

12.46 pm, Maa Tara Weigh Bridge, Agarpara

Two kilometres away, the findings were twice as good. It hardly took 10 minutes for the solitary manager-cum-mechanic to dish out an “A” certificate (WB-01-3203082) with tailpipe emission at 15.3 HSU.

3.16 pm, Surjya Filling Station, Bagbazar

This PUC centre played it by the book, checking oil temperature, RPM (revolution per minute) and finally tailpipe emission. The process took close to half-an-hour and at the end of it, the diesel taxi failed miserably (ID RAVL000322). The emission figure: 94.3 HSU.

4.20 pm, Ganeriwal Super Service, CIT Road

After the honest exception, back to the farcical rule. The friendly “technician” at this pump assured us that the polluting taxi would pass the test. It did — and how. Within seven minutes, certificate number WB-01-2480886 had put down the tailpipe reading as 21.7 HSU. “Bring any car that cannot pass, we will pass it,” he bragged, pocketing Rs 130, the Rs 30 premium for “fixing the problem”.

5.17 pm, Kalighat Service Station, Hazra Road

Another set of cursory tests and another pass certificate — 34.6 HSU (WB-01-2472537).

Officialspeak (July 9, 2005):

“We were under the impression that the method was foolproof” — Shyamal Sarkar, member-secretary, West Bengal Pollution Control Board.

“I had no idea the computerised checking system could be manipulated” — Asim Banerjee, secretary, Auto Emission Testing Association.

“If this is the case, the entire exercise becomes worthless” — a transport department official.

Officialspeak (May 9, 2007):

“The data is shocking” — Debal Roy, member-secretary, pollution control board.

“This cannot be tolerated” — Asim Banerjee.

“We do not have the means to monitor properly” — a transport department official.

Postscript:

“Clearly, the data at most centres are prefixed and the testing is just an eyewash,” says Sudipta Bhattacharya of SAFE, a green NGO, who participated in the operation.

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