Gushing gas

Apex court issues landmark order on CNG and raps the government

Published: Tuesday 30 April 2002

The Supreme Court ruling of April 5, 2002 is momentous. It moves away from the beaten track of issuing deadlines, expecting the government to think through and implement the cng order. This time the three Judge bench headed by Justice B N Kirpal has simply detailed out an implementation strategy for the government to act upon. The ruling hits hard at the government's incompetence, even to perform its administrative role, by reminding it of its fundamental duty to protect right to life and thus people's health.

This ruling came after extensive hearing on all niggling issues, including availability, supply and allocation of cng, issues of ultra low sulphur diesel and doubts about cng technology being experimental. The direction is comprehensive and conclusive. It is expected to put the cng controversy at rest unless the bjp led central government once again tries to be subversive as is evident from the ongoing move to kill it with an ordinance. Fortunately, the Congress led state government has been more responsible in its reaction and action. Both the governments will have to get their act together and implement the order.

Slapping a fine on the Union government for repeatedly seeking review of the order and thus abusing the process of the Court, has signaled a strong message. The government will have to drop its saboteur stance. At a time when both the central and state governments are out to stymie the small cng market with harsher taxes, the Court has shown where the fiscal penalty should be imposed -- on dirty diesel and promoters of dirty fuel. This is the first instance ever in the country of a fine being imposed on a polluting technology based on the polluter pays principle.

This time the entire nation stands to gain from this ruling thanks to the devious attempt of the government to scuttle the cng strategy by tabling the interim report of the A R Mashelkar committee, to allow the use of low sulphur diesel. The Supreme Court calls the bluff. Rejects the plea. But uses the opportunity to broaden the ambit of this case beyond Delhi to give a direction on alternative fuel strategy for the whole country.

This notable ruling that upholds the supremacy of human health must not be diluted only to protect the economic interest of a few thousand diesel bus owners that are holding the city to ransom.

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