Delhi's 'pollution toll' trial hits snag

New Delhi is ranked as having the world's worst air quality by the World Health Organisation. Lorries account for nearly a third of the pollution in the city, adding to a toxic mix of industrial fumes and dust from construction sites to produce hazar
New Delhi is ranked as having the world's worst air quality by the World Health Organisation. Lorries account for nearly a third of the pollution in the city, adding to a toxic mix of industrial fumes and dust from construction sites to produce hazardous levels of smog.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Officials refuse to enforce 'green' plan to tax trucks entering city, citing confusion

NEW DELHI • New Delhi has failed to collect a new "pollution toll" from trucks entering the city, officials said, just one day after the levy was introduced to improve air quality in the choked city.

India's top court last month approved a four-month trial to charge light commercial vehicles an extra 700 rupees (S$1.50) and large trucks, 1,300 rupees. These vehicles are blamed for much of the filthy air in the world's most polluted city.

But private contractors collecting existing tolls for the city refused to enforce the Supreme Court's directive from Nov 1, citing a lack of clear instructions from the authorities.

"We didn't collect any extra 'green tax' last night. There is still so much confusion - no proper communication, no trained staff, no instructions about monthly passes," a toll official said yesterday, on condition of anonymity.

Delhi was covered in smog yesterday, blamed on farmers in neighbouring states burning stubble in their fields after the harvest.

"This is contempt of court," Ms Sunita Narain, head of the Delhi- based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), told the NDTV news network. "The cess is being imposed only because of the pollution in Delhi."

Delhi government-appointed contractor SMYR Consortium LLP said it would not collect the toll because it lacked manpower and software.

"We couldn't initiate the collection process and it might not be possible in future either," Mr Kishore Agrawal, a partner of SMYR, told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Among other issues, officials were worried about security, a common concern for collectors in India who are often roughed up by angry motorists refusing to pay.

SMYR went to court last month complaining that the new toll would lead to traffic snarls and losses, since it may encourage drivers to use alternative routes.

Stakeholders are scheduled to meet tomorrow to work out a solution before a Supreme Court hearing on Nov 16.

Trucks have long been banned from entering the city during the day, but about 52,000 pour in every night after 8pm, said the CSE.

The independent centre said that lorries account for nearly a third of the pollution in Delhi, adding to a toxic mix of industrial fumes and dust from construction sites to produce hazardous levels of smog.

Many of the trucks drive through the capital at night to avoid paying tolls outside the city, which is ranked as having the world's worst air quality by the World Health Organisation.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline 'Delhi's 'pollution toll' trial hits snag'. Print Edition | Subscribe