SC poser to Delhi govt on proposal to purchase electric buses

The Delhi government’s proposal to purchase around 960 semi-low floor fully electric buses to augment the public transport system was on Monday questioned by the Supreme Court, which asked it about the time required to set up charging stations for these vehicles.

The apex court also directed the Delhi government to apprise it of the nature and quality of these buses, and asked it to ponder the possibility of using hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses, which are of hybrid nature, and considered cost-effective as compared to CNG or electric vehicles.

A Bench comprising Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta asked the government to file an affidavit in this regard within two weeks and also give reasons for alleged non-utilisation of funds meant for public transport. The Bench said the affidavit should also contain details of the required number of buses in Delhi.

The court was informed that as per the apex court’s 1998 order, Delhi should have a fleet of 10,000 buses for public transport but it only has 5,815 buses currently.

High Court case

At the outset, the Bench asked the counsel appearing for the Delhi government as to “where will you have the charging stations” for these electric buses.

The lawyer said 960 electric buses were required and each vehicle would cost around Rs. 2.5 crore. He said the proposal to purchase these buses was under a “good scheme” and would help reduce pollution levels.

The Bench then asked about pendency of a matter before the Delhi High Court, which relates to disabled friendly buses.

When the counsel said “that is a different issue”, the Bench asked, “You are going to have so many buses. How many buses will be on the roads in Delhi?”

Responding to the query, the Delhi government referred to the population in the Capital and said the number of buses will be proportional to the traffic here.

‘Lapse of funds’

An advocate, assisting the court as amicus curiae in the matter, claimed the Delhi government had not spent the funds meant for public transport, due to which the money had “lapsed”.

During the hearing, the Bench asked the government about the types of buses plying on the roads here. The lawyer said three types of buses — red AC bus, green non-AC bus and orange cluster buses — ply on Delhi roads.

When the court asked him about the design, capacity of the electric buses they intend to purchase and the company manufacturing them, the Delhi government’s counsel said he will give all these details to the Bench.

The Bench then referred to the hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses and said that the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) should also look into this aspect as this will help in “leapfrogging” from CNG or electric buses to hybrid concept.

“These are the next generation buses. It is much more cost-effective than electric buses,” the Bench said, adding that “the running cost is also less.”

EPCA tenure

At the fag end of hearing, the amicus curiae told the Bench that the EPCA’s tenure was coming to an end on Wednesday. Additional Solicitor General A. N. S. Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said appropriate steps will be taken in this regard.

The apex court had in May asked the EPCA to examine the Delhi government’s proposal for using part of the Rs. 999.25 crore collected from environment compensation charge (ECC) to buy fully electric buses to tackle pollution and improve public transport.

The amicus curiae had earlier told the court that Rs. 1,301 crore was collected in Delhi under the ECC, which the apex court had imposed on commercial vehicles entering Delhi in addition to toll tax, and another Rs. 70.5 crore was collected and lying with the Central Pollution Control Board under the 1% cess levied on diesel vehicles having engine capacity of more than 2,000 cc.

The issue had cropped up when the court was hearing a PIL filed in 1985 by environmentalist M. C. Mehta, who had flagged air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region.

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