New Delhi, April 13, The Supreme Court on Thursday said the time has come for all to realise that a collective effort was needed to clear up the polluted air and the automobile industry has a huge role to play in this.

Asking the automobile industry to wake up to their responsibility for the benefit of the people, the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta said that "It is time to realize that a collective effort is needed to clear the air".

The court said this in its reasoning for banning the sale of BS-III emission norm vehicles from April 1, this year.

Referring to the automobile manufacturers arguments that they were permitted to manufacture BS-III compliant vehicles till March 31 and any prohibition on the sale and registration of such vehicles from April 1 would affect their commercial interest, Justice Lokur speaking for the bench said, "In our opinion, the interveners have completely ignored the history of the last a decade or so which led to the introduction of Bharat Stage norms and their implementation in a phased manner."

Pointing to the rapid growth in the automobile industry and increasing number of vehicles contributing to the phenomenal rise in air pollution, the bench said. "It is quite evident therefore that given the recent history and unfolding of events, it was incumbent upon the automobile industry to modulate its views and give secondary importance to commercial profits and take pro-active steps to reduce vehicular pollution."

"It seems that the automobile industry was quite sanguine that its desire for selling accumulated stock of BS-III compliant vehicles even after April 1, 2017 would be acceded to," the court referred to the past practice when it had become necessary, in one sense, for the Centre to "virtually submit to the commercial interests of the automobile industry by permitting the registration of BS-III compliant vehicles in some cities while permitting the sale and registration of BS-I and BS-II compliant vehicles in other cities even after the cut-off date of April 1, 2005 till the accumulated stock is exhausted."

Five years later the government again submitted to the commercial interests of the automobile industry when on April 5, 2010 it issued a communication permitting the registration and the sale of BS-III compliant vehicles even after April 1, 2010 till the accumulated stock was exhausted. The court said that the sum and substance is that the automobile industry had, at the very minimum, a five-year warning that it would have to consider issues relating to air pollution as a part of its manufacturing activities and production strategy and plan out its activities and revisit the strategy, but did not do so.

"No one knows, nor were we told how long these accumulated stock were expected to last or actually lasted," the court said that the fact of the matter is that we would have expected the automobile industry to have shown some responsibility and taken a positive approach to reduce vehicular pollution and ensure that non-conforming vehicles are not manufactured ..."

On the contrary the automobile industry gave a variety of excuses for not making adjustments for the benefit of the people of the country. Referring to various excuses advanced by the automobile industry including demonetisation upsetting their plans, the court said: "None of these explanations justify the failure of the automobile industry to increase the production of BS-IV compliant vehicles, in spite of sufficient notice of a switch-over and reduce the production of BS-III compliant vehicles."

"The attempt, sadly, seems to have been to push all concerned to the wall by putting before them a fait accompli situation and by ignoring the concerns of millions of our countrymen and women who are entitled to breathe fresh air or at least breathe less polluted air," the judgment said.

"When the health of millions of people in our country is involved, notifications relating to commercial activities ought not to be interpreted in a literal manner. The only option in such eventualities is to give a purposive interpretation to notifications that directly concern public health issues which have an impact not only in the present but also in the future," the court said.

"We were informed that the life of vehicles is in the range of 10 and 15 years. While the development versus environment paradigm could be debated upon, there cannot be any debate in the development versus public health paradigm."

Rejecting the contentions that the existing stock of BS-III compliant vehicles is a miniscule percentage of the overall number of vehicles on the roads in the country and if that miniscule number is brought on the roads by way of sale, it would only result in a marginal increase in air pollution, the court said "With respect, this submission cannot be accepted.

"The health of every person in our country is important and we are more than reluctant to accept any submission that the health of the people can be compromised, even in the smallest measure, for the commercial interests of the automobile industry or of any industry for that matter.

"Additionally, given that the life of such vehicles would be at least 10 years, the concern is not only for the present population of the country but for future generations who also have an entitlement to breathe pollution free air. This is what sustainable development and inter-generational equity is all about. Do we really want to leave behind drastically polluted air to be breathed in this case at least for the next between 10 and 15 years?," the court asked in a poser.