The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Clean-air corps cries foul

For the three state departments entrusted with the task of implementing the Calcutta High Court order to stop vehicles from polluting the city, mission impossible seems to be the maxim.

All three agencies involved in the clean-up operation — the traffic police, the public vehicles department (PVD) and the pollution control board (PCB) — have virtually thrown up their hands and said this is beyond the realm of possibility.

On Tuesday, Calcutta High Court had said that vehicles, both petrol and diesel, could ply provided they met the tail-pipe emission norms announced by the Centre in February. The court said nothing about vehicles switching to either LPG or CNG or about old cars having to go off the roads. It simply left it to the state government to slam the brakes on polluting vehicles.

“Only about 20 per cent of the vehicles here have proper pollution under control (PUC) certificates,” said Shyamal Sarkar, member-secretary, PCB. “The rest either do not have PUCs or operate with certificates that have been fudged by paying a bribe. With lakhs of cars plying just in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area, it would be, to put it mildly, an uphill task to rein in errant cars.”

But this is only one climb in the “uphill task”. A survey conducted by the PCB had revealed that almost half of the 160 auto emission testing centres in the city “are run by rogues” who give false certificates for a fee.

“These centres are degraded, faulty and unscientific and the certificates have no value whatsoever,” said Sarkar. “What do we do about them' It would be no mean task to straighten them out. They are private outfits and a lot of vested interests are at play.”

On Tuesday, the court had hauled up the government on this score as well, lashing out at the state of affairs in the auto emission testing centres. It had observed that the equipment at these centres were neither checked nor calibrated by the transport department. “There is a lack of proper vigil,” the court had observed.

How can we keep a check when we don’t have the infrastructure to handle as big a task as this, is the counterpoint from the corridors of enforcement (see graphic).

So, most senior officials Metro met on Wednesday admitted that Calcuttans could continue to choke on poison fumes despite the court’s orders.

“Most of my people are busy doing their normal law-and-order duties,” said deputy commissioner (traffic) Piyush Pandey. “There are VIP and VVIP duties to attend to as well. So, where do I find the men to check lakhs of cars every day' Our resources are stretched and we can just about conduct the occasional surprise pollution checks,” added Pandey.

The traffic police department is not the only one blaming a resource gap. “There is a total mismatch in the system,” said PVD director H. Mohan. “I have just a handful of inspectors to carry out such an enormous task.”

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