Providing a respite to Delhi Government, a Division Bench of Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed 10 out of 11 Writ Petitions challenging the State’s odd-even formula. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath directed the State to reply to the petition filed by Mr. Nipun Mehta. In the petition, Mr. Mehta, who is himself suffering from a congenital disorder called “Arthrogryposis”, has raised several issues about the impact of the ban on the rights of the disabled to travel without encumbrance.
Dismissing the other petitions, the Court observed, “The implementation of the Odd-Even scheme may have caused hardship to a section of the society, however, the power of judicial review cannot be extended to determine the correctness of such a policy decision or to find out whether there could be more appropriate or better alternatives.”
“Keeping in view that the restrictions under the Notification dated 28.12.2015 are only for a limited period of 15 days and it is stated that the Scheme has been enforced as a pilot project to ascertain the reduction, if W.P. (C) No.11398/2015 & connected matters Page 12 of 12 any, in the pollution levels, we are of the view that the interference by this Court is not warranted,” it ruled.
It reiterated the settled law that on matters affecting policy, Courts would not interfere unless the policy is unconstitutional or contrary to statutory provisions or arbitrary or irrational or in abuse of power. This is because policy decisions are taken based on expert knowledge and the Courts are normally not equipped to question the correctness of the same. The Court however, directed the State to take into consideration the contents of these writ petitions before deciding the future course of action.
Representing the State, Senior Advocate Harish Salve informed the Court that it was necessary that the scheme be continued till January 15, as the data of pollution levels collected during the one week period is not enough to decide the future course of action. He submitted that the scheme has had a positive effect and there is a significant reduction in air pollution levels in Delhi. This was in response to the Court’s observations last week, wherein it had asked the Delhi Government to consider if the odd-even policy could be discontinued by Friday. You may read the LiveLaw story here.
The Court was also handed over a report prepared by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority for NCR. As per the report, the odd-even scheme has resulted in the lowest pollution peak compared to the previous high smog episodes this winter. Besides, it credited the scheme for lower pollution load for cars and per capita emissions of car users. The report also observed a decline in wind pollution and particulate and nitrogen oxide load during the odd-even scheme.
Refuting the contentions, the petitioners had placed before the Court, air quality reports from the Central Pollution Control Board and Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
You may read: Oddness of odd-even Formula by Ashok KM
Out of the 11 Petitions filed before the Court, 5 were filed even before the notification was issued, on the basis of media reports about the Odd-Even programme as proposed by the State.
The Petition filed by Mr. Anit Kumar Bahutay had not challenged the odd-even scheme, but had come out with certain suggestions for reducing the air pollution levels in Delhi by undertaking better alternative methods. The Petition filed by Ms. Karuna Chhatwal had averred that the grant of exemption to two wheelers and vehicles driven by women is arbitrary and illegal since the same has no nexus to the object sought to be achieved.
Mr. Rajiv Khosla, President, Delhi High Court Bar Association pointed out certain practical difficulties being faced by the practicing lawyers due to the restriction imposed on plying of four-wheelers and claiming that the lawyers practicing in various courts and Tribunals all over Delhi have been left immobile. He submitted that the lawyers were unable to attend to their professional duties on account of the restrictions imposed under the Notification.
Mr. Khosla had further contended that the State did not have the authority to impose such restrictions in the area of entire National Capital Territory of Delhi, as the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 authorizes the State Government to impose restrictions or prohibit plying of vehicles only in a specified area or on a specified road.
The Petitions filed by Mr. Rahul Aggarwal, Mr. Amet Sikka, Ms. Shweta Kapoor and Mr. B. Badrinath had raised similar contentions. They had also expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that no empirical study had been conducted by the State before imposing the restrictions. It was also alleged that the public transport system was insufficient to cater to the needs of people and that the State could have adopted other methods like management of traffic, better roads and synchronization of traffic signals to reduce the air pollution levels.
Read the Judgment here.