Kolkata air clean up

The pollution crackdown is on. The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay a Calcutta High Court order to scrap polluting commercial vehicles, paving the way for the long-due clean-up of Kolkata’s filthy air. You may find fewer buses, taxis and autos on the streets on Saturday, but it would be small price to pay for a lungful of fresh air. A Supreme Court bench, comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathaisvam, refused to pass any interim order on Bengal Bus Syndicate’s petition but posted the appeal for hearing on Tuesday. Which means, the government — that has been playing the cat-and-mouse game with court orders since 2004 — has no option but to phase out 15-year-old commercial vehicles from Kolkata Metropolitan Area. If it does not, it could make itself liable for contempt before HC. The HC had last week refused to extend the July 31 deadline, saying it had not passed the order to serve the interests of the advocates or politicians or industrialists but for the sake of the general public, who had a fundamental right to get fresh air. As many as 3,500 buses, 7,000 taxis, 80,000 autos and thousands of trucks are on their way out. On Friday, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said the administration was ready to impound the vehicles that flout the court order. “I am told that bus associations have decided not to operate 15-year-old vehicles. There has been no such assurance from taxi and autorickshaw operators yet,” Sen said at the state secretariat on Friday evening. Old vehicles that are parked by the roadside will not be seized. Taxi and autorickshaw owners remained defiant till late on Friday, insisting that owners who had applied for new vehicles would operate on Saturday. Around 3,000 taxi and 21,000 auto owners have applied for replacement. The rest of the 4,000 cabs that face the scrap hammer will remain in garages on Saturday. But drivers of 65,000 autos that have not applied for switch to LPG vowed to defy the court and take to the streets. Commuters are jittery about the effect of thousands of vehicles vanishing from the streets overnight. The state government has promised alternative arrangements on a war footing, including running the entire state fleet, roping in buses from transport corporations and even hiring buses from other states. Saturday will probably pass relatively smoothly but the real test will be on Monday.

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