The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday ordered the West Bengal government to phase out all vehicles — both private and commercial — that are over 15 years within six months.
The tribunal’s eastern zone bench said the state also has to phase out all public transport vehicles that are below BS IV emission norms within that time-frame.
The bench of B. Amit Sthalekar, judicial member, and Saibal Dasgupta, expert member, said a “few lakh” vehicles — both private and commercial — that are older than 15 years are plying across Bengal. There is a lack of “concerted effort by the state government” in phasing out such vehicles, the bench said.
If the tribunal’s order has to be followed, the state transport department will have to phase out about 92 lakh vehicles that are older than 15 years within six months.
Environmentalists said the task at hand was enormous. Even if the state phases out this number of vehicles, the market may not be able to provide replacements within such a short time.
The tribunal’s order came in response to a petition by environment activist Subhas Datta, who had moved the tribunal against the state’s non-compliance in phasing out commercial vehicles that are over 15 years old.
In its order, the tribunal quoted from the petition of Datta, where the number of vehicles that are over 15 years old is mentioned. The Union ministry of road, transport and highways provided the data in July 2019 in an affidavit.
According to the ministry’s affidavit, there were 2,19,137 commercial vehicles and 18,20,382 non-commercial vehicles in Kolkata. In the rest of the state, there were 6,97,635 commercial vehicles and 65,01,179 non-commercial vehicles till July 2019.
An advocate who has argued for the state government on several matters before the NGT told The Telegraph that the tribunal had powers to impose both pecuniary penalties as well as order imprisonment for non-compliance with its orders.
“If this order is not complied with, the petitioner or someone else can file an execution application. The NGT will then ask the state to execute its order. If the order is still not complied with, the tribunal can impose both monetary penalty and order imprisonment...,” said the advocate.
“A huge number of private and commercial vehicles older than 15 years are plying in the cities of Kolkata and Howrah and also in other places in the State of West Bengal which amounts to few lakhs... It is, therefore, directed that all the old commercial and private vehicles... be phased out in the next six months,” the order read.
Anumita Roy Chowdhury, an air quality management expert and executive director of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said “fleet renewal at such a scale within a very short time frame can be disruptive”.
“Fleet renewal should prioritise unfit and end-of-life vehicles first so that they are scrapped properly ...,” she said
“The market also needs to be ready for rapid fleet replacement. While fleet renewal is an important pollution control measure, if not executed properly, a blanket state-wide ban will shift pollution elsewhere,” she added.
The tribunal also ordered the removal of public transport vehicles below BS (Bharat Stage)-IV stage. “The State Government must ensure that the public transport vehicles below BS-IV are phased out in the next six months so that after six months only BS-VI vehicles would ply in the State of West Bengal...,” the order read.
Datta, based on whose petition Tuesday’s order was passed, said that “the timeframe was too short but at least the state can make a beginning”.
A study published in 2019 showed that the transport sector contributed more than 20 per cent of PM2.5 present in the air of Kolkata.
BS-VI vehicles were introduced nationwide in 2020 but many BS-IV vehicles still ply in the state. Replacing older BS-IV vehicles with BS-VI can give substantial emissions benefits, said experts.