Monday, 30th October 2017

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LAW V/S LOUTS

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 5.01.09
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Calcutta High Court: the auto ban was imposed by the chief justice

Q: Why is the government making a mention on Monday seeking permission to file an application in Calcutta High Court?

A: To plead for more time to implement the two-stroke autorickshaw ban, ostensibly because of violence, after doing nothing for a decade to phase out the polluting three-wheelers.

Q: Who set the December 31 deadline for the ban on two-stroke autos?

A: The final deadline of December 31, 2008, for two-stroke autos was set by the court on July 18, based on a notification issued by the state environment department on July 17 and presented in court by the advocate-general. So, the deadline was effectively set by the government and ratified by the court.

Q: When did the government last promise to meet the December 31 deadline?

A: Less than a fortnight ago — on December 23 — the high court had said the deadline could not be extended and directed the advocate-general to ensure implementation. The government representative did not raise any objection then. On December 26, the high court-appointed committee chaired by the chief secretary, responsible for implementation of the December 31 deadline, met at Writers’ Buildings. The committee announced that the December 31 deadline would be met, with the transport department de-registering all two-stroke autos and police seizing all banned autos from January 1.

Q: Why has the two-stroke auto been banned?

A: The city has around 67,000 two-stroke autos; around 30,000 of them ply without valid papers. Two-stroke autos are the most polluting as they have old engines with poor combustion efficiency. Also, around 83 per cent of the fleet is 20 years and above. In Delhi and Mumbai, where polluting autos have been phased out, no two-stroke auto above 10/15 years is allowed to ply. With the vast majority among the two-stroke auto fleet in Calcutta being older than the Supreme Court-set age limit and just 2,000 two-stroke autos having converted to LPG over the past four years, a total ban on polluting two-stroke autos is the first step towards fighting air pollution.

Q: What pollution does the two-stroke auto cause?

A: The tail-pipe emission from the two-stroke autos running on petrol or a killer cocktail of toxic chemicals popularly called katatel contains toxic components like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and particulate matter. These cause damage to the lung, heart, kidney, eye and throat. Diseases caused by these pollutants include cancer, asthma, bronchitis and cardiac disorder.

Q: How much is the two-stroke auto to blame for the city’s air pollution?

A: The two-stroke auto accounts for about 32 per cent of the city’s vehicular pollution. The official figure is based on only those autos with valid papers and those running on petrol, not katatel. So, the actual share of the two-stroke auto in the city’s foul air is far higher. According to estimates based on WHO findings, around 10,000 people die prematurely in Calcutta and 55 lakh are hospitalised every year because of diseases caused by air pollution. The two-stroke autorickshaw is responsible for at least one-third of those deaths and diseases.

Q: When can the push (on paper) against two-stroke autos be traced back to?

A: In June 2000 — over eight years ago, not “one fine morning” as the chief minister said on Saturday — a report submitted by a high court-appointed committee on vehicular pollution referred to an alarming rise in the number of two-stroke autos in the city that caused far more pollution than four-stroke autos, and said 30-40 per cent of autos were plying without valid authorisation. It called for fixing of a retirement age for autos and stopping registration of autos. The transport department was directed to stop all autos running without valid documents.

Q: What has the government done to stop autos without valid papers?

A: Precious little. In 2003, the advocate-general admitted in court that a significant number of autos was plying without valid papers. The court directed the government to put an end to that. Nothing was done for five years.

The court repeated the directive to the government in its July 18, 2008, order and called for an immediate crackdown on such autos. Less than 50 unauthorised autos have been seized since then.

Auto-ban protesters block a Park Circus road on Friday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Q: What has the government done to convert polluting two-stroke autos to LPG?

A: Precious little. In 2004, a transport department committee report stated that all autos must be converted to LPG. A number of notifications and court prods followed, but the government managed to set up only 12 LPG stations — against the target of 75 — and only 2,000 two-stroke autos were converted.

Q: Why was the government reluctant to push for LPG conversion?

A: Because it dared not antagonise the auto lobby — a source of faithful foot soldiers and steady revenue — that resisted the conversion; LPG switch would spell the end of the katatel raj and limit passenger count to three per ride (against the illegal norm of five-six per auto now).

Q: What was the government supposed to do from July 18 to January 1?

A: To seize all autos plying without valid papers, crack down on katatel, replace two-stroke autos with four-stroke with a proper package and time-bound programme, de-register all two stroke autos from December 31, seize all two-stroke autos plying from January 1.

Q: What does the government’s go-slow now mean?

A: It is an admission of inability to govern, it is a confirmation of lack of government action despite repeated court directives, and a failure of the transport department on every count. At the end of the day, it means the government is bothered about the auto lobby, not our lungs, about poll dividends, not pollution deaths.

It also means any illegal activity can be condoned if lumpen elements hit the streets and terrorise people -- law-breakers, not law-enforcers, will decide how the state is run.

Q: Finally, what does it mean when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee says autos cannot be converted ‘one fine morning’?

A: At worst, it means he is lying. At best, it means he has no clue.