For a government claiming to be on the fast track, go-slow seems to be its only mantra when it comes to cleaning up the air we breathe.
The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government on Wednesday sought ' and got ' another week's time from Calcutta High Court to submit a status report on the installation of multi-gas analyser machines to check auto emission.
Transport department officials said on Wednesday that a fair number of new machines would be installed within a week (see box).
This is the third time the transport department has made such a promise within two months. The previous ones, of course, were followed in their flout.
The home truth, as on December 8, is that of 70 auto-emission testing centres, new machines have been installed at only eight, with just two of them in working condition.
The deadline for installing computerised multi-gas analysers (to check petrol-run vehicles) and opacymeter (for diesel-run vehicles), along with computer and webcam, expired on October 1 and the government was supposed to submit a status report to the high court.
The division bench of Calcutta High Court, comprising justice Barin Ghosh and justice Alok Kumar Basu, had granted the government an extension of a month to submit the report.
On November 24, when the government was supposed to submit a status report to the court, only two machines were found to be in action. The case, however, did not come up for hearing due to the absence of Justice Barin Ghosh.
When the matter came up in court on Wednesday, the government sought a week's time to furnish the status report, promising that the new machines would be made operational by then. The court did not lose much time in granting the government a seven-day breather.
Environmentalist Subhas Dutta, who has been chosen to assist the court in the case, slammed the government's failure to take effective and serious steps in installing and operating the new emission-testing machines.
'The government is in no position to submit the status report, and is, therefore, playing for time,' observed automobile expert S.M. Ghosh, main petitioner in the case.
Transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury, meanwhile, continued to claim on Wednesday that things were progressing 'satisfactorily'.
'You will find at least 50 auto emission-testing centres operating with new machines within a week,' he promised, adding that the court would soon be briefed about the progress.
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty continued to assert that his department was not taking 'unduly long' in installing the new machines. 'It is only a section of people who are raising a hue and cry,' he argued.