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Drawing a strong line on environmental issues, the Supreme Court banned the sale and registration of Bharat Stage III (BS-III) vehicles from April 1, when BS-IV emission norms will come into force across the country, saying that health of citizens is more important than commercial interests.

In a major setback to automobile manufacturers , a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta decided to take the “drastic” step, saying that BS-III vehicles could aggravate the already deteriorating air quality in the country and such a step was needed to handle the menace of pollution.

Holding that the health of millions of people is more important, the court dismissed the plea of automakers to allow them to dispose of existing stocks of 8.2 lakh BS-III vehicles. The companies have a stock of 8,24,275 BS-III vehicles, which include 96,724 commercial vehicles, 6,71,308 two-wheelers, 40,048 three-wheelers and 16,198 cars. Now, the companies have no option but to export the vehicles or turn them to scrap.

They admitted that it is not possible to make old stocks BS-IV compliant. Though the Centre had backed the companies and told the court that manufacturers be allowed to sell stocks, as its notification was confined to a ban on manufacturing of BS-III vehicles after March 31; and was not meant to restrain them from disposing of existing stocks of BS-III vehicles, the court remained unmoved.

Except Bajaj Auto, all companies, including their association – Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), opposed the plea for banning the sale of their stocks and sought six to seven months to sell stocks. They contended that companies were allowed to sell their stocks with old emission norms, when the new technology was introduced twice in 2005 and 2010 and the court should permit the same.

Two-wheeler majors Hero MotoCorp, HMSI, Bajaj Auto and Suzuki Motorcycle are offering discounts of up to Rs 22,000 on BS-III models to liquidate stocks, a day after the Supreme Court banned sale and registration of such vehicles from April 1.

With 6.71 lakh two-wheelers, out of over 8 lakh BS-III vehicles impacted by the ban, dealers said the immediate effort is to sell as many units as possible before the deadline by offering “unheard of discounts” in the industry. Bajaj Auto also offered discounts and free insurance on its different models, starting from the entry level Platina to Pulsar RS200 in the range of Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 12,000 along with free insurance.

Advocating a complete ban, the amicus curiae (impartial adviser to the court) said BS-IV trucks are 80% cleaner than BS-III; and if the polluting vehicles are sold, they would keep polluting the environment for the next 10-15 years. The apex court refused to grant relief to the companies. It said the manufacturers were fully aware way back in 2010 that BS-IV norms would be enforced from April 1, but they chose to sit back and not take sufficient pro-active steps.