A strong opposition was mounted in the Supreme Court today against a government proposal to allow car manufacturers a grace period to sell their BS-VI non-compliant vehicles in the country after April 1, 2020, with a lawyer saying the people were living in a "gas chamber" and even the foetus was getting affected by high pollution. The car makers, on the other hand, justified the grace period to sell their vehicles contending that India was leapfrogging from the BS IV emission norms to BS VI within a short span of time. The arguments on the issue of air pollution in the Delhi-National Capital Region saw the lawyer, who is the amicus curiae assisting the court, also saying that the government cannot allow the citizens to die due to a health emergency.
"We can live without a car, but we cannot live without breath. ... We are facing an emergency situation," advocate Aparajita Singh, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the pollution matter, told a bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur. Vehicular pollution has been one of the biggest carbon dioxide sources and the emission norms have been brought about across the world, including India, to bring down pollution levels and having cleaner cars on the roads.
The Bharat Stage VI (or BS-VI) emission norm would come into force from April 1, 2020, across the country. The BS IV norms have been enforced across the country since April 2017. In 2016, the Centre had announced that the country would skip the BS-V norms altogether and adopt BS-VI norms by 2020. Singh said there was a "health emergency" in the country due to the severe air pollution levels which was endangering the health of the people.
She told the bench, which also comprised Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, that the government was giving time till June 30, 2020, to the automobile manufacturers to sell their BS-VI non-compliant four-wheelers manufactured till March 31, 2020. In case of heavy transport vehicles, the grace period has been extended by the government till September 30, 2020, she said. Questioning the government's move to give the grace period to the automakers, she said that in a report of the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, doctors have said they have not seen people having pink lungs in Delhi. 581 people have died in Delhi due to respiratory problems and around 17 lakhs were affected by respiratory issues.
The counsel, representing automobile manufacturers, said they were allowed to manufacture BS-IV vehicles till March 31, 2020, and they should be granted reasonable time to sell their stock.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said the government considered it fit to give three and six months to the manufacturers to sell their stock of BS-IV vehicles after April 1, 2020. One of the lawyers representing the manufacturers told the bench that the date of BS-VI emission norm was advanced from April 2024 to April 1, 2020, and India would "leapfrog to BS-VI from BS-IV norm."
The counsel representing car maker Mercedes-Benz said they already have vehicles which could run both on BS-IV and BS-VI fuel. When the bench told the ASG about this variant by Mercedes-Benz, the ASG said, "everybody cannot afford Mercedes-Benz". The amicus said it was important for the regulator to frame a policy as automobile manufacturers were exporting BS-VI vehicles to Europe and other countries but when it comes to India, they always raise some issues.
She said that people were residing in "gas chamber" and dying due to pollution and even the foetus was getting affected by this. "It would be in the national interest and they can save the people from dying," she said, adding that BS-VI non-compliant vehicles should not be allowed to be sold in India after April 1, 2020.
Referring to a World Health Organization list of most polluted cities in the world which has named nine Indian cities, she said that as compared to BS-IV fuel, PM 2.5 and NOx level (generic term for nitrogen oxides) would be reduced by almost 80 per cent with BS-VI fuel. "The government cannot say that people are dying but we will allow them (manufacturers) three and six months time," the amicus said and referred to the apex court order in which it was said that health and life of people was far more important than commercial interest.
The bench, after hearing the submissions, reserved its order on the issue whether the grace period should be given to the manufacturers to sale BS-VI non-compliant vehicles after April 1, 2020. The court also asked the ASG to place before it a copy of report of the Ganga Ram Hospital "unless it is confidential". In July, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had told the top court that sale and manufacture of BS-VI non-compliant vehicles in India should not be allowed from April 1, 2020, as it would lessen environmental benefits which would be accrued from using cleaner BS-VI fuel.