India’s top court bans new diesel cars in capital

NEW DELHI: India’s top court Wednesday ordered a moratorium on large, new diesel cars in New Delhi in a string of tough measures aimed at cleaning up the world’s most polluted capital.


The Supreme Court also barred diesel trucks older than 10 years from entering the congested city and halted the burning of garbage, as scathing public criticism mounts over Delhi’s toxic air.

Chief Justice TS Thakur ordered the ban on registration of new diesel vehicles with engine capacity of over two litres or more, typical of SUVs, jeeps and other luxury cars.

The courts are pushing authorities to act over the filthy air, ranked as the worst in the world in a World Health Organization (WHO) survey last year of more than 1,600 cities.

Delhi’s air routinely worsens in winter months as millions of poor people light fires to stay warm and as cooler air and clouds trap pollutants.

Leading environmentalist Sunita Narain, who was in the court, said judges also ordered city-based taxis to move from diesel to CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) by the end of March.

“There cannot be anything more fundamental than the right to clean air and what the court has recognised today… (is) this is a public health emergency,” Narain told reporters.

“There is now a ban on the registration of diesel vehicles above 2000cc across NCR (the National Capital Region),” she said, referring to the engine capacity.

The ban will last until March 31.

The court also doubled an environment tax on commercial diesel-guzzling trucks that enter the city, thousands of which pass through Delhi nightly en route to other parts of the country.

Car sales are soaring as incomes rise, with 1,400 extra vehicles pouring onto the city’s already crowded roads every day.

More than 23 percent of the cars on Delhi roads run on diesel, which produces more carcinogens than petrol, according to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment think tank.

Stocks of one of India’s largest diesel carmakers, Mahindra & Mahindra, tumbled four per cent on the Mumbai exchange following the ban.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, said on Twitter his company would honour the court’s decision.

Delhi has been enveloped in a toxic soup in recent weeks, cutting visibility and sending PM 2.5 levels more than 10 times over WHO’s recommended safe limits.

These extremely fine particles — less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter — are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream.

Facing flak over the crisis, the city government earlier this month said private vehicles would only be allowed on the roads on alternate days for a trial period in January.

In a separate ruling this week, the country’s environment court slapped a ban on new registration of all diesel vehicles for nearly four weeks in New Delhi, although it was unclear if authorities were carrying out the order.
Successive Delhi governments have faced scathing criticism for failing to come up with a strategy to tackle the smog.

The city does not issue public health warnings, unlike Beijing, which also suffers from hazardous haze levels and has declared war on its toxic air.