Waking up to the rampant malpractice in the functioning of private auto-emission testing centres (AETCs), the transport department has decided to set up its own units in the city and elsewhere in the districts.
Twenty centres will be set up in and around Calcutta and 30 in the districts.
In the city, apart from transport department plots, they will first come up at the Lalbazar police headquarters, Regional Transport Office in Alipore and the office of the public vehicles department (PVD), Beltala.
'The functioning of 70 AETCs in the city, all run by private parties, is far from satisfactory. To stop the malpractice, we have decided to set up our own units,' transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury said on Wednesday.
'Initially, we will set up two units at the PVD, one unit each in Alipore and Lalbazar and one unit each at the regional transport offices. More will come up gradually,' he added.
Emission checks will be conducted on all vehicles at the PVD during renewal of permits or payment of tax or issuance of fitness certificates.
The bulk of the funds required for installing the machines, each costing Rs 3 lakh, will come from the Centre. The project will be implemented by the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation.
Officials said apart from allegations of irregularities against the private AETCs, what has prompted the government to open its own centres is a recent Calcutta High Court order striking down a notification banning vehicles more than 15 years old in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area.
The order prevents phasing out of vehicles on the basis of age, and the government has done precious little to facilitate a switch to green fuel. So, a stringent check on emission norms remains the only weapon at present in the fight against the city's poison air.
Transport secretary Chowdhury asserted that vehicles with tailpipe emission 'beyond the permissible limit will not be allowed to ply at any cost'.
But in July 2005, the government had assured the high court that the AETCs had been computerised and were 'working properly'. It was then that Metro had blown the lid off the malpractice at some of the centres.
Following the expose, four centres were showcaused by the state government. PVD director H. Mohan had even threatened to suspend their licences. But then it all came to a naught. 'It was found that the testing machines were at fault, not those who run them,' said Asim Banerjee, secretary, Auto Emission Testing Centres Association.
With various centres providing clean chits to polluting vehicles, even the transport secretary has admitted that most polluting vehicles ' 'more than half the commercial vehicles and 25 per cent of the private ones fall into this category' ' are armed with PUC certificates.