"Health of people more important than interest of manufacturers", noted a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, in its five-page order banning sale and registration of vehicles that are not BS IV-compliant from April 1, 2017 – a date set seven years back for the country to move to BS IV emission norms.
What clearly seems to have gone against some vehicle manufacturers, as the apex court noted, is them not moving fast enough to take sufficient proactive steps despite being fully aware of the deadline. But more than compliance, it is more a concern regarding availability of right quality fuel, industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) have maintained.
It was in 2010 that 13 Indian cities moved to BS IV emission standards, but the switch over across the country wasn't possible simply because of the unavailability of BS IV-compliant fuel. A recent report in The Indian Express stated that till about a year back, fuel stations in nearly 70 % of Indian cities did not have this superior quality fuel. That has since changed and starting April 1, the entire country has now moved to BS IV fuel standard.
While there were concerns raised by OEMs about the eight lakh-plus BS III-complaint vehicles that had remained unsold, the apex court wasn't moved by the industry's business concerns.
As the country now prepares to move to BS VI emission standards by around the same time in 2020, this verdict should act as a rap on the knuckles for all stakeholders concerned. This for sure would call for massive investments – for manufacturers, suppliers as well as oil marketing companies – and estimates put these figures at over Rs 100,000 cr!
It is a serious wake-up call that the judiciary wouldn't be lenient when it comes to environmental matters, especially when it involves vehicle emissions. Readers would recall that the earlier shift from BS II to BS III norms happened with a fair amount of relaxation of deadlines. But we are living in different (and difficult) times and the government as well as the industry should be mindful of this in its drive towards meeting even-stricter BS VI emission norms in just three years from now. Let's hope lessons have been well learnt.
Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
New Delhi, April 2017