Lawyer takes stand against city's rising pollution level

It was an article in the western media slamming India for its air pollution which made Vardhaman Kaushik move the National Green Tribunal.

“According to the article, China had three days of pollution of above 400 particulate matter (PM) level and it was taking steps but India had seen three weeks of such days and there was nothing happening about it. It was an embarrassing kind of article to read,” says 27-year-old Kaushik.

“In winters, whenever I used to go for a workout, I felt the poisonous air was decreasing my capacity. I am a lawyer and I thought I should do something through my course of action,” he says.

His “harmless” petition in the NGT in February 2014 has resulted in a ban for all diesel vehicles older than 10 years in the NCR.

“It wasn’t a hostile litigation. I just wanted a solution,” the young lawyer says.
Following the petition, the country’s green court had in April this year ordered that all 10-year-old diesel vehicles be taken off the roads in the National Capital Region. The Supreme Court had refused to interfere with the ban and had dismissed a petition challenging it.

Over the years, Delhi has retained the unique distinction of the most-polluted city in the world. The Union government had in March informed the Rajya Sabha that the level of particulate matter (PM10), which can cause serious health problems, has exceeded the prescribed limits in the air of Delhi and five other neighbouring cities.

However, Kaushik feels there is no “urgency” within the government departments to deal with this matter and that the petition will not lead to its logical conclusion.

“The pollution issue is not being taken seriously even now. There is a huge gap between issuing directions and implementation. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee says it doesn’t have the mechanism to check particulate matter level and they can just check the smoke density in a vehicle. So all these euro 4 and 5 norms are just on paper,” he says.
In order to lead by example, Kaushik, who lives in Gurgaon, sold his 10-year-old car around 15 days ago to someone in Mandi Gobindgarh in Punjab.

“We had two options. Either we take it to a smaller city or sell it to someone. I didn’t get a good price, but I thought if I am petitioner in this case, I have to set an example,” he says.

He, however, feels the order banning 10-year-old vehicle was “a little hastened”.
“There should be an emission norm or how a check on the gases a vehicle exhausts. But again DPCC doesn’t have a mechanism to check emission norms. So may be the court didn’t have any other option. But diesel has been found to be polluting. Paris which has a stake in diesel-producing companies has said they will stop producing diesel vehicles. They are taking a cognisant step and we are unmindful in India”.

“My limited plea was the causes for the rising air pollution that should be identified and curbed. I made a submission and sought a direction to authorities to build cycle tracks, install air filters, and make a web portal for people to complain about activities like waste burning,” he says.

But Kaushik feels the authorities are not even doing anything to curb these activities. “We daily see waste and leaves burning. There is no initiative from the government and they don’t want to give solutions. It is a very dismal state of affairs”.

“There is a huge role for the citizens to play. They take their cars just for going to a nearby market. People have to give up this habit and move to public transportation more often or whenever it is feasible for them”.

The case is being taken up pro-actively by NGT but Kaushik feels it is because of the government authorities that substantial results are not being seen and it is being repeatedly deferred. “I think the case has gone beyond my understanding and imagination”.

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