SC: Vehicles not complying with the requirement of PUC Certificate can’t be debarred from being supplied fuel

The Hon’ble Supreme Court. on 28th August 2020, in the matter of State Of Madhya Pradesh v. Centre For Environment Protection Research And Development & Ors. held that Motor Vehicles not complying with the requirement of possessing and/or displaying a valid PUC Certificate cannot be debarred from being supplied fuel.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Over the last several decades, there has been a growing concern worldwide, over pollution and the consequential decline in air quality. Increase in pollution has led to loss of vegetative cover and ecological/biological diversity, excessive concentration of harmful chemicals in the ambient atmosphere, growing risks of environmental accidents and has posed a threat to life support systems. (Para 5)

Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 empowers the Central Government to take all such measures as it may deem necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and for preventing and controlling and abating environment pollution. Section 3(2) (iv) specifically empowers the Central Government to lay down standards for emission of environmental pollutants, whatever be the source. This is in addition, inter alia, to the general power of the Central Government to lay down standards for the quality of environment in its various aspects under Section 3(2) (iii) of the Environmental Protection Act. “Environment Pollutant” includes gaseous substances injurious to environment emitted from a motor vehicle. (Para 11)

Section 24 of the Environment Protection Act provides that the provisions of the said Act under Rule or orders made therein shall have effect not withstanding therein contained in any enactment other than the Environment Protection Act. Where any act or omission constitutes an offence punishable under the Environment Protection Act and also under any other Act, the offender found guilty of such offence is liable to be punished under the other Act. (Para 13)

The Central Government is empowered to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving environment and for preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution. (Para 14)

The existence of the power to take all necessary measures to control pollution and/or to protect and improve the environment is coupled with the duty to exercise such power, if circumstances so warrant. It is in discharge of such duty and/or obligation, that the Central Government incorporated certain provisions in the Rules framed under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. (Para 14)

One of the main goals of the Environment Protection Act 1986 is to ensure sustainable development. This is a concomitant of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. (Para 15)

In exercise of powers conferred by the Motor Vehicles Act and in particular Section 110 thereof of the Central Government has framed the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.  The 1989 Rules have also been amended from time to time to incorporate provisions for laying down standards for emission, discharge of environmental pollutants from motor vehicles. The norms for emission from Motor Vehicles have been incorporated in Rules, 115, 115A 115B 115C 115D and 115 E to the 1989 Rules read with the Tables/Annexures appended thereto. (Para 16)

The standards and/or norms of emission from Motor Vehicles of pollutant gases such as Carbon Monoxide, Hydro Carbon, etc. are prescribed in the Tables and Annexures appended to Rule 115. Rules 115A, 115B, 115C, 115D and 115E make special provisions with regard, inter alia, to agricultural tractors, construction equipment vehicles, combine harvesters driven by diesel engines, CNG (compressed Natural Gas) driven vehicles, LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) driven vehicles, Retrofitment of hybrid electric system kit to in use vehicles, mass emission standards of Flex Fuel Ethanol (E85) and Ethanol (ED95) vehicles. (Para 18)

The Green Tribunal Act, 2010 has been enacted to establish a National Green Tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating, inter alia, to environmental protection and matters connected therewith. (Para 26)

Section 2(1) (c) of the Green Tribunal Act, 2010 defines environment to include water, air and land and the inter-relationship, which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property. (Para 27)

The Tribunal constituted under the NGT Act has jurisdiction under Section 14 of the said Act to decide all civil cases where any substantial question relating to environment including enforcement of any right relating to environment is involved and such question arises out of the implementation of the enactments specified in Schedule I to the said Act, which includes The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986. (Para 37)

In view of the definition of “substantial question of environment in Section 2(m) of the NGT Act, the learned Tribunal can examine and decide the question of violation of any specific statutory environmental obligation, which affects or is likely to affect a group of individuals, or the community at large. (Para 38)

For exercise of power under Section 14 of the NGT Act, a substantial question of law should be involved including any legal right to environment and such question should arise out of implementation of the specified enactments. (Para 39)

Violation of any specific statutory environmental obligation gives rise to a substantial question of law and not just statutory obligations under the enactments specified in Schedule I. However, the question must arise out of implementation of one or more of the enactments specified in Schedule I. (Para 40)

The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 may not be specified in Schedule I to the NGT Act. However, the statutory 1989 Rules framed under the said Act casts statutory environmental obligations on manufacturers, owners and others in control of motor vehicles, as also the State and other statutory authorities under the said Act. The enforcement of the statutory environmental obligations under the 1989 Rules, which is a substantial question relating to environment, arises out of implementation of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment Protection Act and, in particular, Section 20 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 which casts on the State Government the mandatory duty to give instructions to the authorities in charge of Registration of Motor Vehicles with a view to ensure compliance of the standards of emission of our pollutants and Section 7 of the Environmental Protection Act, which prohibits any person from carrying on any operation, which would include operation of a motor vehicle, from discharging or emitting any environmental pollutants in excess of prescribed standards or permitting such discharge or emission. (Para 41)

On a combined reading of Sections 3, 7, 10, 11 and 23 of the Environment Protection Act, with particular reference to Section 3(1), 3(2)(i)(a) and (b), 3(2) (iii, iv) and 3(2)(x) with Section 20 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Sections 14, read with 2(c), and 2(m) of the NGT Act and Rules 115 and 116 of the 1989 Rules, the learned Tribunal had the power, authority and/or jurisdiction to direct the appellant State Government to strictly implement the requirement of vehicles to possess and/or display a valid PUC Certificate, and also to direct the appellant State Government and/or the other authorities concerned to take penal action in accordance with law, that is, Rules 115/116 of the 1989 Rules. (Para 42)

On a purposive reading of Section 20 with Section 17(1)(g) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 the standards of emission prescribed by Rules 115 and 116 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 attract Section 20 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981(Para 43)

When a Statute or a Statutory Rules prescribed a penalty for any act or omission, no other penalty not contemplated in the Statute or a Statutory Rules can be imposed. It is well settled that when Statute requires a thing to be done in a particular manner, it is to be done only in that manner. (Para 50)

There can be no doubt that strong measures must be taken to protect the environment and improve the air quality whenever there is contravention of statutory rules causing environmental pollution. Stringent action has to be taken, but in accordance with law. (Para 51)

Stoppage of supply of fuel to vehicles not complying with the requirement to have and/or display a valid PUC Certificate is not contemplated either in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 or in the NGT Act. Motor Vehicles not complying with the requirement of possessing and/or displaying a valid PUC Certificate cannot be debarred from being supplied fuel. (Para 52)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_28-Aug-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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