Right to Pollution Free Air; Petition comes before Supreme Court Tomorrow
Squarely blaming the diesel subsidy policy of the government for promoting the sale of diesel passenger car and thereby aggravating pollution of Indian cities and causing irremediable harm to the society, Dr. Arvind Gupta, the Founder Trustee of Indian Investors Protection Council (IIPC) has knocked on the doors of the Apex Court seeking a direction to the Union Government to discontinue extending subsidized diesel from the Government exchequer to undeserving sections of the society, particularly to the owners of luxury cars, Telecommunication towers of the private sector, Malls, Supermarkets, 5-star hotels, resorts and all other commercial establishments. The PIL is listed for Tomorrow before the Chief Justice’s Bench
The petitioner has attributed the rise in air pollution in Indian cities due to the dieselization of all types of vehicles in India and has averred in his petition that while the short term health effects due to diesel exhaust pollution are headache, nausea, nose congestion, eye irritation etc, long term exposure leads to cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease and high incidence of lung cancer. “Thus, increasing dieselization without strict emission norms is producing a huge burden of diseases and ailments for the road users and also for those living in the vicinity of roads,” contends the petitioner.
Pointing out, on the basis of the findings of National Toxicology Program, Department of Health and Human Services and the report on Carcinogens, (Twelfth Edition, submitted in 2011), that diesel exhaust particles are likely to account for the human lung cancer, the petitioner has also stated that the subsidy extended top diesel is being eaten away by the passenger car and the luxury car segment. Further, according to the petitioner, the car manufacturers are not subjected to emission norms and therefore are causing double jeopardy: eating into subsidies and causing environmental and consequent health damage.
The writ petitioner has contended that apart from the economic burden to the exchequer and pecuniary advantage to the diesel engine car manufacturer sector, “this discrimination of extending universal subsidy is leading more importantly to a huge burden on public health on account of high environmental pollution caused by the dieselization of the cars, sectors and also other diesel generator users such as Telecom towers and Malls.”
Slamming the government over its lopsided policies, the petitioner avers in his petition that while all over the world, Governments follow diligently ‘Polluter pay principle’ in implementing environmental policies, in India, it has always been the case of ‘Polluter is subsidized principle’, be them diesel car manufacturers/users, Dyers, tanneries and disposable plastic packaging manufacturers, to name a few. “The Government is more concerned with pleasing corporate companies and showing high economic growth as an achievement and means of generating employment by supporting and subsidizing automobile, telecom and other luxury sector. But, the Government policy makers forget in their wisdom that such short sighted policies only encourage private profiteering at the cost of public exchequer and prevent reforming technological and scientific advancement in the respective industries, and thereby result in rapid increase of urban pollution and contribute to sickness and ill health amongst the people.”
In the writ petition which has been filed against the Union Government, the Ministries of Environment & Forests and Petroleum and Natural Gas and the Central Pollution Control Board, the petitioner has also sought a direction to the respondents to take adequate steps immediately “to enforce the prescribed emission standards in tune with Euro IV and V on all appropriate parameters such as particulate matter (RSPMs), nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide lead etc. for diesel vehicles / petrol vehicles uniformly throughout the country so as to control and reduce air pollution, to contain the threat to the life of the public at large and to protect the health and wellbeing of citizens to ensure their unbridled Right to Life and ambient air in the country.”
The petitioner has charged the Ministries of Environment and Forests and Petroleum and Natural Gas as also the Central Pollution Board of failing to discharge their constitutional duties to preserve and protect the air free from pollution.
The petitioner, who is a resident of NCT of Delhi has averred in his petition that he is directly and substantially affected by the runaway pollution which has touched an all time high of 711 µg/m3 i.e. more than 30 times permissible by the WHO, and that he like the other residents of NCT are faced all kinds of respiratory difficulties arising out of this pollution of gargantuan proportions.
Invoking the constitutional guarantees under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution the petitioner has claimed that every citizen is entitled to maintenance of the environment, clean air, ecological balance, air and water free from pollution without which life cannot be enjoyed.
The petitioner has specifically charged the official respondents of having been lax in the performance of their duties and that as a result the Euro IV and Euro V emission norms on diesel and petrol vehicles have not been implemented till date. “The policies in place are hopelessly out of date and out of sync with the realities. The failure of the Respondents to implement the Environment Protection Act, 1986, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the new standards of emission norms followed in the developed world has resulted in transforming Delhi and the National Capital Territory and other Indian cities into virtual gas chambers” says the petitioner.
The petitioner also avers in his writ petition that since the executive and the legislature have failed in their duties in safeguarding the fundamental rights of the citizens to a pollution free environment, he has been constrained to file the present Writ Petition.
The petitioner has further claimed that the respondents have long ignored the hard facts about the alarming levels of Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) in Delhi. According to the writ petitioner, “The recent bout of smog over Delhi has recorded a frightening 711 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter)
of PM10 as against the permissible limit of 20 µg/m3 prescribed by the WHO and 450 g/m3 of PM2.5 in several areas of Delhi as prescribed by NAAQ (National Ambient Air Quality) Standard for Residential – Industrial area Annual Average / 24 Hrs. is hopelessly out of date and sill treats 60-80 µg/m3 as the permissible limit.”
“The increased level of RSPMs has been universally accepted as causing lung cancer and cardio pulmonary mortality. It is also directly linked with asthma, respiratory diseases, birth defects and premature deaths. High plaque deposits in arteries, causing vascular inflammation, hardening of arteries and resulting in cardio vascular and cardio pulmonary deaths and complications, mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lungs. PM10 are small size of particulate matter of 10 micro meters or less and PM2.5 particles smaller than 2.5 micro meters or less. These RSPMs can penetrate the deepest part of the lungs such as Bronchioles or Alveoli. The recent recordings of RSPMs, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in Delhi shows that the capital has become a virtual gas chamber.”
The petitioner has claimed that the prime culprit for this alarming rise in the levels of RSPM and other pollutants is the extensive use of diesel fired car engines which have proliferated extensively on Indian roads which according to him is due to the “encouragement of Government policies.”
Terming diesel as one of the dirtiest of all motor transportation fuels, the petitioner claims that Diesel cars with Bharat Stage III/IV emit 7.5 times more toxic particulate matter than equivalent petrol cars. “A study conducted by the Yale and Columbia Universities has illustrated India as one of the worst performers in maintaining air quality level and has ranked 125th in the world.”
The writ petitioner has directly charged the respondents with allowing air standards to plummet in a little over a decade after the landmark verdict of the Supreme Court in 2001 wherein the Court had ordered conversion to CNG, all Public Transport Vehicle which included buses, taxies and vans.
The petitioner has sought to impress upon the Court of the need to change to “non-liquid fuel like CNG or LPG so as to improve the air quality in this country and not merely of Delhi.” According to the petitioner such changeover “may perhaps obviate the need to manufacture vehicles meeting Euro III or Euro IV standards.”
The petitioner has inter alia, sought for a direction to the Central Government and the Central Pollution Control Board to take adequate steps immediately to prescribe emission standards in tune with EURO V on all appropriate parameters such as Particulate Matter (RSPM), nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, lead etc. for diesel vehicles/petrol vehicles uniformly throughout India, and further “to implement stringent rules covering the particulate matter emissions of diesel vehicles including trucks and buses, whereby the vehicles that do not meet the EURO IV & EURO V standards to have their licenses / regulation to be impounded and heavily fined.”
He has also demanded that the official respondents mandate that the existing vehicles be retro fitted with the technologies in tune with EURO V/ EURO VI to control emissions and they strictly enforce the National Auto Fuel Policy dated 6.10.2003 which envisaged vehicles and engines emission standards in India through a phased program for introducing Euro 2-4 emission and fuel regulations by 2010 and also direct the Respondents to bring a Fresh National Auto Fuel Policy take steps to implement EURO V.
Additionally, in view of the pollution-inducing nature of diesel, and to discourage the consumption and use of diesel, the petitioner has demanded that the Union Government discontinue “extending subsidized diesel which is recognized the world over as the dirtiest of all fuels from the Government exchequer to undeserving sections of the society, particularly to the owners of luxury cars, Telecommunication towers of the private sector, Malls, Supermarkets, 5-star hotels, resorts and all other commercial establishments and bring in market determined pricing mechanism exclusively for such users or an optimum and appropriate cess to compensate for loss to the public exchequer or both the mechanisms and thereby control the emission levels and bring it in conformity with emission standards of the first world.”
Read the Petition here.