National Green Tribunal’s decree: A Drastic Amateurish Step

Kochi, Kerala, May 27: Judiciary being the pillar of democracy, the institution has certain responsibilities. But, when the same institution make dictatorial statements, the citizens will be forced to question it.

The recent National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) decree on imposing curbs on diesel vehicles above 2000-cc in six cities of Kerala is an apt example.

The decision has now forced the state exchequer to pay more than Rs. 135 crore annually owing to curbs imposed by the NGT’s Kochi Circuit bench on registration of diesel vehicles above 2000-cc in six cities in the State.

Besides, the State will have to mobilise over Rs.270 crore for part repayment of motor vehicle tax to owners of 94,000 non-transport vehicles and 91,000 transport vehicles. More than 1.85 lakh motor vehicles powered by HSD and older than 10 years are to be phased out in the next five years, according to the NGT order.

The Motor Vehicles Department (MVD), in its report to Transport Minister A.K. Saseendran, has said the amount of Rs.135 crore had been arrived at taking into account around 4,400 diesel vehicles above 2000-cc being registered annually and the 20 per cent motor vehicle tax collected from them.

Rs. 270 crore, the amount to be repaid, was worked out on the basis of 40 per cent depreciation to vehicles. The State collects one-time motor vehicle tax for a 15-year period. As diesel vehicles have to be phased out, the report said, the tax collected for the remaining five years would have to be repaid.

The report was discussed at a high-level meeting convened by Mr. Saseendran at the Secretariat. Incidentally, KSRTC was also asked to submit details of stage carriers to be phased out from its 6,000-odd fleet. The Transport Minister said he would seek the advice of the Chief Minister on the MVD report and inputs from stakeholders and decide on the way forward. The meeting was attended by Law Secretary B.G. Harindranath, Transport Commissioner Tomin J. Thachankary, Joint Transport Commissioner Rajeev Puthalath, Assistant Transport Commissioner P.M. Shaji, CMD of KSRTC Antony Chacko, and senior officials of MVD, KSRTC and the Transport Department.

The Transport Commissioner briefed the Chief Minister about the issues later in the day.

PIL challenging the order

A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed before the Kerala High Court questioning National Green Tribunal (NGT) Kochi circuit bench’s order banning diesel vehicles older than 10 years from plying in the state.

The PIL was filed by advocate ML George alleges that the NGT’s order has far-reaching consequences but was passed without hearing the views of the central or state governments or any other agencies concerned.

NGT’s direction to temporarily stop registration of diesel vehicles above 2,000CC has also been questioned in the PIL. The order was passed by NGT arbitrarily and no time was granted to the opposite parties in the petition filed by Lawyers’ Environmental Awareness Forum (LEAF) to respond, the petitioner has alleged.

Though the NGT’s directive was issued as an interim order, it had the characteristics of a final order. Therefore, NGT was bound to hear the state government and KSRTC prior to passing such an order as they are responsible for providing an alternate method of public transportation, the PIL said.

Moreover, the state must use the power of issuing an ordinance against the NGT’s decision with regard to the same.

State Government’s take on it

The Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) will move the Supreme Court against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) verdict banning diesel vehicles over 2000CC that are on road for over 10 years from operating in the state.

Transport minister A.K. Saseendran convened a meeting of officials from various departments here on Thursdayto discuss various possibilities in the aftermath of the green tribunal verdict.

All the vehicles were given registration after the owners paid a tax for 15 years.

In such cases, there are chances for legal battles if they are forced to take out their vehicles from roads, Mr Saseendran said. Another issue was relating to public transport vehicles. At present no company manufactured petrol vehicles for the public transport system.

Though there are some alternatives for diesel in public transport vehicles like CNG, there was a dearth of trained professionals in the state who have the know-how to support this change, Mr Saseendran said. Even the green tribunal had asked the governments to think of alternatives for diesel in public transport vehicles.

However, the state government was not in a position to ensure this changeover in such a short span of time. Officials have been asked to submit a note expressing their suggestion in wake of the green tribunal verdict, Mr Saseendran said.