Did all vehicle makers violate green norms? SC leaves door open for probe

The Supreme Court on Monday left the door open to allow probe into whether all vehicle makers in India violated environmental norms, and said that it was up to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to decide whether it wanted to widen the net or examine only Volkswagen India. The observation by the top court came on a plea of Volkswagen India which said that it was being singled out and unfairly targeted as NGT had not ordered tests against any other vehicle maker. Volkswagen India has moved the top court asking it to set aside the Rs 100 crore fine imposed on it by NGT.

Remanding the matter back to the green tribunal, the top court said that the committee formed by the tribunal should now also include Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The final report, the apex court said, would be looked into by NGT which will decide on further course of action.

Following the revelations of presence of “defeat devices” in Volkswagen cars, the NGT had in November 2018 formed a team of representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Heavy Industries, Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute to determine the fair estimate damage caused to environment due to diesel cars belonging to Volkswagen. The panel had, in its report submitted on December 24, said that Volkswagen should pay at least Rs 171.34 crore as a “conservative” fine for the damage its cars had caused to environment and general health in India. Earlier, NGT had on November 16 asked the carmaker to deposit an interim amount of Rs 100 crore with the CPCB within one month.

Subsequently, Volkswagen had moved Supreme Court seeking a stay on the fine. The top court, while refusing to stay the fine, had extended the time for the car maker to deposit the money, till January 7 this year and said that it would next hear the matter on January 21. However, during a hearing on January 17, the NGT slammed Volkswagen India and asked it to deposit Rs 100 crore by 5 PM on January 18 or face arrest of its country Managing Director (MD) and seizure of company’s properties in India. The green tribunal had also said that the risk of Volkswagen’s MD being arrested and its properties in the country being seized would not automatically peter out even if it deposited the money.

On Monday, the top court provided Volkswagen some relief on this front also and said that since Volkswagen India had already deposited the money, there should be no occasions to impose any punitive measures on the company.

It was Volkswagen’s case in the NGT that since the matter was pending before Supreme Court, which had granted an extension of deadline to pay the Rs 100 crore fine, it had not deposited the money with CPCB. The NGT, however, refused to listen to the explanation and said that since there was no stay on the fine amount, Volkswagen should have deposited the money. It had then asked the carmaker to deposit the money within 24 hours. During the hearing on Monday, the Supreme Court also took an exception to this direction of the green tribunal and said that the NGT should have ideally awaited the top court’s directions on the issue before asking Volkswagen to make the deposit.

In December 2015, following the discovery of defeat devices installed in the cars of the company, Volkswagen India had recalled 323,700 vehicles to fix the emission software. Tests conducted in India had found that some models of the car were emitting pollutants as much as 1.1 to 2.6 times higher than applicable Bharat Stage-IV norms.

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