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Govt may miss pollution deadline

 
Times of India, New Delhi, 1st March, 2009
 
Correspondent : TNN
 
KOLKATA: The state, it appears, will never learn from its mistakes. Less than two months after being chastised by Calcutta High Court for its failure to drive toxic fumes-belching two-stroke autorickshaws off the city roads by a given deadline, the transport department is yet to notify owners of 15-year-old taxis, buses and trucks that are to be taken off by March 31.
 
Acting on a public interest litigation on the city's foul air, the high court Green Bench had passed an order on July 17, 2008, asking the state government to stop the plying of vehicles emitting toxic fumes. It had adopted three broad deadlines. First, was removal of two-stroke autorickshaws by December 2008. Second, stop plying of 15-year-old taxis, buses and trucks in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) and third, conversion of all autos to dedicated LPG in the city by March 31, 2009, and in KMA by December 31. While it missed the first deadline miserably with not a single two-stroke auto voluntarily converting to four-stroke LPG, it is now set for an encore with the second deadline as well.
 
With just a month to go for the second deadline to expire, the state transport department is back to where it was before. Though it has chalked out two schemes for replacement of taxis and buses, the message has not reached the masses. It is learnt that the transport department has prepared a draft for advertising the scheme for taxi owners in dailies. Bengal Taxi Association president Bimal Guha estimated that around 6,000 taxis were over 15 years old.
 
According to the proposal, taxi owners with vehicles manufactured prior to January 1, 1993, can avail of a replacement scheme to be advertised in a couple of days. "We will ask taxi owners to apply for the scheme by March 15 so that the documents can be processed before the deadline expires," a transport department official said.
 
As per the scheme, HM will offer Rs 45,000 to taxi owners as scrap value for the old vehicle. The government will give a grant of Rs 20,000 including a two-year road tax and permit fee waiver and Rs 23,000 in excise duty waiver.
 
The official claimed a similar scheme had been prepared for bus owners but refused to divulge it till it was discussed at a meeting on March 3. Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha said around 4,000 buses came under the ban ambit.
 
Sources, however, said the government would extend the 35% grant offered by Centre under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme to 700 bus owners, giving them the opportunity to replace their buses. Bus owners, however, are not too enthused as the government wants to retain ownership till the loan for the remaining 65% is repaid.
 
As for trucks, no one seems bothered. Since it is a commercial and not public transport, the state has no intention of offering any subsidy for the switch to new vehicles.