SC not to budge on CNG issue

Apex court slams Mashelkar committee report

Published: Sunday 31 March 2002

-- (Credit: Amit Shanker/CSE)"THIS is the fifth time that the Union and state governments have come back to this court with the prayer that diesel buses be allowed. If this were a private party (instead of being the government), it would amount to abuse of process and the party would be made to pay the cost." It was on this note that amicus curiae Harish Salve began the proceedings in the Supreme Court (SC) during a recent hearing in the M C Mehta case on air pollution in Delhi. Although the apex court bench is yet to deliver its verdict, it has categorically stated that there will be no going back on the CNG (compressed natural gas) directive for buses in the capital. The SC bench is expected to deliver a verdict soon in view of the January 31, 2002, deadline to convert diesel buses to CNG not being met.

Salve read out from page after page of the Mashelkar committee report, primarily to prove that the report has no other purpose than to ask the SC to "back off". He pointed out that it does not take air quality targets into consideration while making its recommendations that only emission norms should be prescribed and not fuel and technology. The report criticises CNG only in the recommendations and not in the main part, indicating that the government wants to rid itself of the responsibility of implementing the order. Justice B N Kirpal, who is heading the bench, observed, "Although the Mashelkar report mentions that it is dealing with public health concerns, I do not see the name of a single health expert in their panel of experts."

During the hearing, the fuel adulteration report compiled by the Centre for Science and Environment and submitted by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority was also discussed. Salve first underscored the fact that the Society for Petroleum Laboratory was not benchmarking benzene tests with the one per cent standard but was continuing with the three per cent level.

He then moved on to the glaring discrepancy in the sulphur content in fuel as highlighted in the report. Sulphur levels have been found to be decreasing as the fuel moves from the refinery to the depot and then to the retail outlets.

Justice Kirpal interpreted these results as "dilution and adulteration" because a retail outlet cannot possibly sell fuel with a lower sulphur content than that in the refinery. The profits made by adding 15 per cent naphtha were highlighted and so were the poor benchmarks set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

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