Hazy order

| Updated on December 01, 2014

The National Green Tribunal’s order on controlling air pollution in Delhi transgresses into the executive’s domain

The National Green Tribunal’s sweeping diktat, aimed at controlling air pollution in Delhi, may be well intentioned, but it is a clear case of overreach. In response to a petition, the quasi-judicial body in its interim order banned all vehicles more than 15 years old from the roads of Delhi, and even prohibited them to be parked in public places. The Regional Transport Offices have been directed not to renew the registration of any vehicle, including city transport buses, more than 15 years old. The NGT also banned the burning of leaves, plastic and other material in the open and directed various ministries, the Delhi government and the Delhi Pollution Control to examine the possibility of installation of air purifiers in all the markets and crowded places or where the traffic load is heavy. Authorities were even directed to identify a new bypass route for traffic from Rajasthan heading towards Mumbai.

Judicial activism in India has taken root and grown in a climate where the executive has failed hopelessly. Acts of omission and commission on the part of the latter have broadened the scope for judicial intervention, which has sometimes served as correctives. The higher judiciary has shown a willingness to entertain petitions on sensitive issues that elected governments have been reluctant to address. While such intervention has often led to positive outcomes, one offshoot of this has been the involvement of the judiciary in policy issues, which lie in the domain of the executive. The NGT’s omnibus order is a blatant example of the kind of diktat which disturbs the delicate balance of power between the judiciary and the executive as envisaged in our constitutional structure.

Apart from this, there is the issue of the practicality and desirability of some of these directives. The ban on parking is impossible to implement without radically restructuring the city and creating massive new parking infrastructure. The ban on burning of leaves or rubbish will rob the poor and homeless of their only source of warmth during Delhi’s cold winters. The order is narrowly focused on vehicular pollution, which is far from being the sole cause of air pollution in the capital, which is a result of emissions, construction dust, sand from the Thar desert and burning of agricultural waste in surrounding States. What is the logic of enforcing pollution control rules of this nature for one city? Or, for that matter, banning vehicles because of their age, without addressing the question of whether or not they satisfy existing pollution control norms? As it stands, the NGT, which has been criticised in the past for extending its jurisdiction and giving “non-technical” judgments, appears to have done both with its instant ruling, which falls into both categories. The sooner the NGT revises it, the better.

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Published on December 01, 2014
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