Car makers’ wait to sell diesel vehicles with an engine capacity of 2,000cc and more in the National Capital Region (NCR) has got longer. In a special sitting on Saturday, the Supreme Court heard the arguments of car makers but gave no relief. The hearing will continue on May 9.
The ban severely impacts companies like Toyota, Mercedes and Jaguar Land Rover. The automobile manufacturers told the Supreme Court that diesel passenger vehicles accounted for only 1.5 per cent to the air pollution in Delhi and has a tiny contribution of 0.5 per cent in the PM 2.5 emission.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), sought to vacate the December 2015 order. He told a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur that the ban on new diesel cars would be counterproductive, as the older versions pollute more. He said petrol was a major pollutant even as CNG emissions resulted in high levels of mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx), a major cause of respiratory and other diseases.
Singhvi cited a study by IIT-Kanpur to buttress his arguments. He said that road dust contributed 38 per cent pollution, industries 11 per cent, domestic activities 12 per cent, concrete batching six per cent and municipal solid wastes and diesel generator sets contributed a whopping 13 per cent. All vehicles together contributed only 20 per cent to Delhi’s air pollution, said Singhvi. Still, vehicular pollution was the major villain in the public perspective, he added.
According to manufacturers, diesel cars improve the “country’s energy security, balance of payments and India’s commitment to lower carbon footprints through lower CO2 emissions.”
The Supreme Court has indicated that an environment cess, or green tax, could be levied on large diesel vehicles. The government, in its February Budget, imposed a one per cent infra cess on petrol or CNG cars with an engine capacity of 1,200cc or more. For diesel cars with engine capacity of 1,500cc or more, the cess is 2.5 per cent of the price. The industry is against a further cess.
The apex court, however, allowed Delhi Police to purchase and register around 190 heavy duty vehicles for various uses on payment of a 30 per cent value as green cess. The industry wants a penalty on pre-BS IV vehicles rather than taxing the new vehicles which use fuel-efficient technology. Auto companies also recommended increase in price of diesel and scrapping of vehicles older than 15 years.
Senior counsel K K Venugopal, representing a group of children who suffered from ailments caused by air pollution, suggested model like California and London which cleared smog in those cities. He recommended retrofitting of catalytic converters on all vehicles which would drastically reduce air pollution. He provided technical data which should be examined by the Ministry of Transport.
Additional solicitor general Maninder Singh submitted that government institutions are already doing research on the pollution problem and Venugopal’s suggestions would be examined by experts. “The government is totally committed to a time-bound programme to clean the air,” he said.
Chief Justice asked him: “What were you doing till now; you are waking up now? It affects everybody; are your people sitting in plush offices and only sipping coffee?”
Companies have tried to overcome the crisis arising out of the ban. Largest utility vehicle maker Mahindra launched a 1,990cc diesel engine for vehicles in NCR. The new engine was launched in January, leading to resumption in sale of popular models like Scorpio and XUV500.
Mercedes was the worst-hit among luxury car makers since its entire diesel vehicle range is impacted. Seventy per cent of Mercedes’ sales volume is diesel-driven and Delhi is a significant market, contributing about 15 per cent of total sales in India. Toyota has also suffered since its two popular models — Innova and Fortuner — have not been sold in the NCR for over four months. It has seen double digit decline in monthly sales after the ban. Toyota plans to launch petrol variants of Innova soon.
No petrol, diesel taxis in NCR from today: SC
No petrol- or diesel-run taxis will be allowed to ply in the National Capital Region from Sunday, May 1, the Supreme Court directed on Saturday. The court refused to extend the deadline of April 30 for all taxis in the region to convert into CNG.
“We gave sufficient time for private taxis to convert to CNG and we are not inclined to extend the deadline,” the apex court observed. However, cabs with an all-India permit will be exempt from the rule.