SC: If there is a conflict between health and wealth, obviously, health will have to be given precedence

The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 24.10.2018 in the matter of M.C Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. ( In re: Recommendation Nos. 2.2.1 and 2.2.2 of Report Nos. 71 and 78 submitted by EPCA) enunciated that no motor vehicle conforming to the emission standard Bharat Stage IV shall be sold or registered in the entire country with effect from 01.04.2020.

The Hon’ble Court among other things, observed that:

There can be no two views that air pollution is hazardous to health. (Para 10)

Rs. 30,000/­ crores of the taxpayers’ money have been expended by the Union to ensure that the fuel available in the country is BS­VI compliant. It is heartening to note that the Union, being concerned with the health of the citizens and also taking note of the urgent need for a clean environment, has taken steps to manufacture cleaner fuel. It will probably be available in many parts of the country prior to 01.04.2020 and the entire country will shift to BS­VI fuel from 01.04.2020. (Para 11)

It is not as if on 01.04.2020 just by waving a magic wand the entire country will change to BS­VI compliant norms. If all the refineries and manufacturers by taking note of the requirement to bring in BS­ VI fuel, have introduced such fuel from 2018 and are introducing it in a phased manner in the entire country by 31.03.2020, then there is no reason why manufacturers of automobiles, two wheelers, three wheelers etc. cannot also do so. (Para 11)

In this Press Release issued in July 2017 it has been stated that M/s. Hero MotoCorp. has begun developing BS­VI compliant models and it aims to introduce such products much before the timeline of 2020. The company has also stated that it will manufacture only BS­VI fuel compliant vehicles well before the date stipulated by the authorities. If one manufacturer can do this, there is no reason why other manufacturers of two wheelers cannot do so. (Para 12)

With regard to trucks and buses, from a news item published in the Financial Express dated 06.07.2018, it is apparent that Eicher is already manufacturing trucks and buses which are not only BS­VI compliant but BS­VI CNG compliant. Another manufacturer of heavy vehicles i.e. Ashok Leyland had, in August, 2018 through its subsidiary Optare obtained an order to manufacture the world’s first electric double decker buses. The technology needed to manufacture such electric buses is much more advanced and difficult as compared to the technological changes required to manufacture petrol and diesel vehicles which are BS­VI compliant. Similarly, TVS Motors on 07.08.2018 has issued a press note that it will be manufacturing BS­VI compliant vehicles much ahead of the deadline of 2020. Many members of SIAM in the Auto Expo held in February, 2018 have exhibited vehicles which are technologically much more advanced than BS­VI compliant vehicles. These manufacturers have not only asserted that they can manufacture electric vehicles but also asserted that they are developing hydrogen cell fuel vehicles along with hybrid, electric and CNG vehicles. (Para 13)

Some of the manufacturers are not willing to comply with the 31.03.2020 deadline not because they do not have the technology but because the use of technology will lead to increase in the cost of the vehicles which may lead to reduction in sales of the vehicles and ultimately their profit. There can be no compromise with the health of the citizens and if one has to choose between health and wealth, keeping in view the expanded scope of Article 21 of the Constitution, health of the teeming millions of this country will have to take precedence over the greed of a few automobile manufacturers. The automobile manufacturers must behave responsibly. We expected that keeping in view our earlier order, they would have themselves volunteered to be BS­VI compliant by 31.03.2020. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with some of the manufacturers and they want to stretch on the timeline by a few days or months for no other reason but to make a little more money. (Para 14)

When we compare BS­VI fuel with BS­IV fuel, there is a massive improvement in environmental terms. Once BS­VI emission norms are enforced, there will be a 68% improvement in PM2.5. This is not a small change. It is a vast improvement and the faster it is brought, the better it is. BS­VI compliant vehicles are going to be more expensive than BS­IV compliant vehicles. (Para 15)

It is an established principle of law that the right to life, as envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes the right to a decent environment. It includes within its ambit the right of a citizen to live in a clean environment. With regard to vehicular traffic, this Court has issued a number of directions to ensure a clean environment and reduce pollution. It has been held that the right to clean environment is a fundamental right5. The right to live in an environment free from smoke and pollution follows from the “quality” of life which is an inherent part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to live with human dignity becomes illusory in the absence of a healthy environment6. The right to life not only means leading a life with dignity but includes within its ambit the right to lead a healthy, robust life in a clean atmosphere free from pollution. Obviously, such rights are not absolute and have to co­exist with sustainable development. Therefore, if there is a conflict between health and wealth, obviously, health will have to be given precedence. When we are concerned with the health of not one citizen but the entire citizenry including the future citizens of the country, the larger public interest has to outweigh the much smaller pecuniary interest of the industry, in this case the automobile industry, especially when the entire wherewithal to introduce the cleaner technology exists. (Para 16)

It is therefore necessary to ensure that BS­VI compliance is uniform throughout the country so that even those areas of the country which fortunately have not suffered the ills of extreme pollution are safe in the future. The sale of automobiles and other vehicles is rising exponentially and the number of vehicles on the road is increasing day by day. Therefore, even a day’s delay in enforcing BS­VI norms is going to harm the health of the people. We are dealing here with a situation where children and unborn children suffer from pollution and issues of inter­ generational equity are involved. Do we as a society or as manufacturers of automobiles have a right to manufacture more polluting vehicles when we have the technology to manufacture less polluting vehicles? The answer is obviously a big NO. If we were to factor only economics even then it makes no economic sense to have more polluting vehicles on the roads. The effect of pollution on the environment and health is so huge that it cannot be compensated in the marginal extra profits that the manufacturers might make. The amount spent on countering the ills of pollution such as polluted air, damaged lungs and the cost of healthcare far outweigh the profits earned. (Para 17)

No step is too small when it comes to fighting pollution. Small steps to reduce pollution when taken together will lead to large scale reduction in pollution which will result in much cleaner air, which eventually will result in a cleaner and better environment, healthier citizens and most importantly a healthier generation to come. (Para 18)

Sub­rule 21 of Rule 115 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 is very vague. It does not talk of sale of vehicles. It only mentions registration of vehicles and permits registration of vehicles conforming to BS­IV norms up to 30.06.2020 and in case of categories M & N, up to 30.09.2020. This rule, in the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s view, is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution in as much as it extends time for registration of vehicles beyond 31.03.2020 and is accordingly read down. Any extension of time in introducing the new norms which is not absolutely necessary adversely impacts the health of the citizens and is, therefore, violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This Rule goes against the spirit of all the orders passed earlier by this Court. (Para 19)

31.03.2020 is almost 1 1⁄2 years away. There is sufficient time for the manufacturers to change over to the new system and, therefore, we see no reason why they should be given a window of three or six months for sale of accumulated vehicles. Every vehicle sold after the cut­off date of 01.04.2020 is bound to cause more pollution and, therefore, the manufacturers, in our considered view, cannot be permitted to sell any non­BS­VI compliant vehicle on or after 01.04.2020. (Para 19)

We have to give a purposive interpretation to notifications specially those dealing with public health issues and even more so, when health not only of the citizens at present but also the citizens in the future is involved. There is more than sufficient time for the manufacturers to manufacture BS­VI compliant vehicles. They already have the technology to do so. The automobile industry must show the will, responsibility and urgency in this regard. (Para 19)

The Government has developed a policy of phasing out polluting vehicles and discouraging the manufacture of polluting vehicles. This has been done in a gradual manner. Europe introduced Euro­IV fuel in the year 2009 and Euro­VI standards in 2015. We are already many years behind them. We cannot afford to fall back further even by a single day. The need of the hour is to move to a cleaner fuel as early as possible.(Para 20)

Therefore, in exercise of the power vested in the Hon’ble Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, The Hon’ble Supreme Court read down sub­rule 21 of Rule 115 and direct that sub­rule 21 of Rule 115 shall be interpreted and understood to read that no motor vehicle conforming to the emission standard Bharat Stage­ IV shall be sold or registered in the entire country with effect from 01.04.2020.  (Para 21)

Copy of Judgement : Judgement 24-Oct-2018

-Tushar Kaushik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *