The eastern zone branch of the national green tribunal has directed the West Bengal government to phase out within six months all vehicles older than 15 years, including private cars. The phase-out is expected to reduce the air pollution in Kolkata and Howrah.
Firhad Hakim, the state transport minister, said the government would appeal to the bench for more time as lakhs of vehicles will have to be phased out.
“Although the affidavit of the state government indicates some actions, a concerted effort by the state government is lacking. A huge number of private and commercial vehicles older than 15 years are plying in the cities of Kolkata and Howrah,” observed the NGT bench of Justice B. Amit Sthalekar and expert member Saibal Dasgupta.
“It is, therefore, directed that all the old commercial and private vehicles in the state of West Bengal, including the cities of Kolkata and Howrah, be phased out in the next six months,” directed the bench in its order.
“The state government must ensure that the public transport vehicles below BS-IV are phased out in the next six months, so that only BS-VI vehicles ply in the state of West Bengal, including the cities of Kolkata and Howrah, after six months,” further directed the bench. It asked the state government to expedite the introduction of buses run on environment-friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and electricity.
According to an estimate submitted by the Union ministry of road transport to the bench earlier, more than 92 lakh vehicles aged 15 years or older are plying in the state, of which over 20 lakh vehicles are plying in Kolkata.
“We have already started phasing out 15-year-old vehicles, introducing CNG-run vehicles and are planning to deploy electric buses in a major way; but it’s almost impossible to phase out lakhs of vehicles within such a short time. We will ask for more time from the bench,” said minister Hakim on Tuesday evening.
“Phasing out about 50 lakh vehicles in six months is impractical,” said a senior transport department official.
Only Delhi has worse air quality than Kolkata and Howrah also features prominently in the country’s air-pollution list. Vehicular pollution is considered a major source of air pollution in the cities.
“I hope the NGT order will speed up the process of phase-out of old vehicles in Kolkata and elsewhere. The phase-out of 15-year-old commercial vehicles was first directed by Calcutta High Court in 2008 and subsequently, in 2016. In 2020, the NGT reiterated the order, but nothing much has been done on the ground,” said environment activist Subhas Datta, on whose petition the NGT passed the latest order.
The bench also asked the state to implement the action plan recommended by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute to counter air pollution in Kolkata and Howrah within three months. The action plans were based on a study that had been commissioned the state pollution control board, following an NGT order.
“… Action Plan needs to be implemented with immediate effect. It is accordingly directed to carry out the implementation of the Action Plan to combat the sources of pollution and thereby remediate the situation within a period of three months,” reads the order.