State transport minister Ranjit Kundu admitted in the Assembly on Monday that allowing vehicles older than 15 years, which are banned in Calcutta, to ply in the districts was a mistake.
“The pollution control rules do not debar old vehicles from plying in the districts. But people need not panic as the phased-out vehicles will be given permission to ply in the rural areas only after rigorous screening,” Kundu told the House.
“The regional transport authorities (RTAs) have been asked to ensure that highly polluting vehicles phased out from the city do not ply even in the districts,” added the minister during a discussion in the question-answer session.
Pradip Ta, a CPM member, had asked whether the government would allow vehicles banned in the city to ply in rural areas. The high court-imposed ban on vehicles more than 15 years old came into effect last year.
“The existing environment rules do not disallow the vehicles from plying in rural areas because the pollution level in the districts is not so high as in Calcutta,” said Kundu.
Ta, however, said pollution in rural areas was bound to increase if old vehicles were allowed to ply there. “People in the districts are panicking. They fear that the pollution level would rapidly rise if more and more vehicles phased out of Calcutta are given the permission to ply in districts,” said Ta.
MLAs from the districts, belonging to the ruling as well as the Opposition parties, later told Metro in the Assembly lobby that they too would oppose the government decision to allow vehicles phased-out from Calcutta to ply in the districts.
“These 15-year-old vehicles have been banned from plying in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area (CMA) for causing pollution. It’s strange that the same vehicles are being allowed to ply in rural belts where the pollution is still much less than in Calcutta,” said a Trinamul MLA.
Replying to another question, the minister said the state government had decided to grant Rs 50,000 and Rs 30,000 each to poor bus and minibus owners for buying vehicles.