Air pollution from vehicular emission and legal measures

Prachi Kumari

Air pollution from vehicular emission is a major problem in our country as pointed out by the National Green Tribunal recently. The tribunal, speaking through a five judge’s bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar recognised three main categories of pollutants in Delhi including Pollution from vehicular emissions along with Burning of plastics and other agricultural and horticulture produce in open spaces, and Pollution from construction sites and transport of construction material and debris.

Taking into account the pollution from vehicular emission in Delhi, National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned the diesel vehicles over ten years old from plying in Delhi. The ban applies to both, private and commercial vehicles and it came on an application filed by Vardhaman Kaushik.

This is not the first attempt to control air pollution. International efforts for the protection and preservation of the global environment started with the convening of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972. The journey from the Stockholm Conference to the Rio Summit led to the recognition that all human beings are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

In the wake of Stockholm Conference, India enacted The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 to take appropriate steps for the preservation of the natural resources of the earth which, among other things, include the preservation of the quality of air and control of air pollution.

Section 2 (b) of the Act defines: “Air pollution means the presence in the atmosphere of any air pollutant.” The term ‘air pollutant’ has been defined under section 2 (a) of the Act to mean any solid, liquid or gaseous substance including noise present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment.

Moreover, Section 20 of the Act provides for power of the State Govt. to give instructions for ensuring standards for emission from automobiles. Apart from this, The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, inter alia, provides for prevention and control of air pollution from automobiles which constitute a major source of pollution everywhere, especially in the congested metropolis.

The Indian judiciary has also attempted from time to time to control this.

On 28th July, 1998, some directions were issued fixing a time schedule after taking note of the recommendations made by the Bhure Lal Committee. One of the important directions issued on that date was to the effect that the entire ‘city bus fleet was to be steadily converted to a single fuel mode of CNG by 31/3/2001’. Another direction was to the effect that ‘no eight year old buses were to ply except on CNG or other clean fuel after 1st April, 2000’.

Again in the year 2002, the court in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, ((AIR 2002 SC 1696))the court observed that neither the Governmental authorities nor private bus operators acted seriously or diligently in taking steps for the purposes of complying with the aforesaid directions.

Therefore, after hearing learned counsel for the parties seeking extension of the March 31, 2001 deadline the court some relaxations or exemptions with a view to mitigate the sufferings of the commuter public in general and the school children.

My purpose of mentioning the exemptions is to point out that court is quite lenient in enforcing the parameters relating to vehicular pollution. Coming to the present order of National Green Tribunal (NGT), I would say, it must be followed in letter and spirit. Earlier in November last year, the Tribunal had ordered all vehicles that are more than 15 years old from plying on Delhi’s roads, but little headway has been made towards implementing it.

As rightly pointed out by the tribunal, Delhi is becoming more and more vulnerable to various diseases and the greatest sufferer of these pollutants are young children of today and India’s tomorrow. Not only Delhi, but every area is being affected by pollution. We have to handover a pollution free atmosphere to our next generations and for this we need a strict law controlling pollution. Stringency should extend till maximum possible practicability.

Many countries in the world including Denmark, Brazil, China and Sri Lanka are in the process of banning diesel vehicles and it is our turn to do the same. This ‘shifting dates’ practice is nowhere helpful to us.