Rigged in India

Pollution control is bypassed with typical ingenuity

Published: Tuesday 15 March 2005

-- october 1, 2004 was a watershed for India. On that day, countrywide, a new set of emission norms for in-use vehicles came into existence. Putting it mildly, they were well thought out. For it took the executive over a decade to change the in-use emission norms, since inception.

The norms were made stricter for the petrol vehicles, but for our diesel vehicles, expectedly, though the emission norms were left unchanged, the tests procedures were made more stringent. The idea was to make the diesel tests more representative of the actual conditions. Right?

It took just one visit to show how wrong we were. Despite pollution checking instruments having embedded software, they are not beyond the inventiveness of our checking centres. The result: the system takes a beating, even today. The question is: what would it take to actually implement environmental norms in this country?

For a change, these new norms were put in place without the court's directive. Quite a change in itself, given that environmental issues seem a judicial prerogative, with the executive rendered a mere bystander. Fact is the executive has simply failed to deliver, giving the stock pretext, "let hard decisions be taken by court." This serves its own purpose: votes are not lost as long as we can get the judiciary to endorse it. Accordingly, senior bureaucrats typically reflect the "if you could push this through the court" attitude.

While many vital decisions have been pushed through by the judiciary's intervention, in the long run, this is hardly the ideal situation. The constitution of India had created clear -- and functional -- responsibilities for the executive and judiciary to fulfil. This sort of overlapping puts pressure on the latter, while the executive gets more inept and irrelevant. As the agency with the ultimate accountability, the executive cannot expect the judiciary to take up the environment's cause. Nor can it, in decisions that prove unpopular with business, pass the buck to the judiciary. But that's what it seems hell-bent on doing.

So it is that the system takes a beating. Even today, any day.

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