Supreme Court upholds pollution levy on trucks entering Delhi

The apex court will give an order on Monday based on directions prepared by amicus curiae

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Friday 09 October 2015

Light duty vehicles and two-axle trucks will have to pay Rs 700, while three- and four-axle trucks will pay Rs 1,300 (Photo: Vikas Choudhary)

Light and heavy duty commercial vehicles entering national capital Delhi will have to pay an environmental compensation charge for causing pollution in the city, indicated a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in a special sitting on Friday.

Light duty vehicles and two-axle trucks will have to pay Rs 700, while three- and four-axle trucks will pay Rs 1,300. The payment will be collected by toll operators at 127 entry points into the city.

Vehicles carrying people and essential commodities such as food, medicines and fuel will, however, be exempt from paying the tax. The court said this compensation arrangement will be experimented with for four months and could be modified thereafter.

On Monday, the apex court will pass orders based on directions filed by the amicus curiae Harish Salve, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar and senior advocate Dushyant Dave who represents the Delhi government. The order of the Supreme Court will supersede all previous orders passed by various courts, including the order by the National Green Tribunal on October 5 which had called for a similar compensation model to mitigate air pollution. 

Salve cited the "polluter pays" principle of environment law and appealed to the court to levy an "environment compensation charge" on commercial vehicles travelling through Delhi. He also said the additional tax collected should be used for improving the state of public transport and roads in Delhi. The apex court, however, directed the Delhi government to issue a separate notification in this regard, based on the Supreme Court’s order.

The court also directed neighbouring state governments of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to coordinate with the Delhi government and speed up the construction of alternate road projects, which will help these vehicles avoid Delhi.

The money collected from these tolls will be handed over to the Delhi Government which will use it to mitigate the losses caused by air pollution, promote public transport and green spaces, and make pedestrian and cycle lanes on roads. The court has also asked toll tax operators to incur the cost of installing Radio Frequency Identity systems and CCTVs at all 127 points. These facilities will have to be installed at nine main entry points, which see 75 per cent of the commercial traffic, by November 2015.

Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) applauded the Supreme Court for acknowledging and recognising the problem of severe pollution caused by trucks in Delhi. "This is a major victory for fight against deadly air pollution," said CSE Director General Sunita Narain. "We would like to thank the Hon’ble Supreme Court for the decision, and amicus curiae Harish Salve who filed an application in the court, seeking immediate measures before winter sets in."

Narain also congratulated the Centre and Delhi government for agreeing with and supporting this decision.

In a recent study, CSE monitored nine entry points into Delhi and found that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) underestimated the number of trucks entering Delhi. Their figure was 70 per cent less than actual. It investigated the levies on other routes and found that Delhi’s taxes were cheaper and, therefore, more lucrative for trucks using Delhi as a transit corridor.

According to submissions of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi (Traffic Police), nearly 66,069 commercial vehicles enter Delhi, of which six-wheel trucks, 10-wheel trucks and 14-wheel trucks and above account for approximately 14,000. More than 25 per cent of these vehicles are en route to other destinations and pass through Delhi only for convenience, better roads and less toll tax.

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