Case no. (Supreme Court of India):Case Appeal No. 3798 of 2019 
Date of Judgement of the case:11th January 2024
Bench:Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal
Appellant(s):Container Corporation of India Ltd.
Respondent(s):Ajay Khera and others
  • An application was made before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), New Delhi to shift the operation of Respondent no. 1 namely Container Corporation of India Ltd (CONCOR) under the control of Respondent no. 2 the Railway Board of Delhi to a location situated outside the regions of Delhi. 

Also to restrict the entry of the containers to the depot in cases when such containers are not meant for Delhi. Directions were given to utilise battery-powered or CNG-powered forklifts, empty handlers, reach stackers, and other small vehicles and switch to electric trains from diesel locomotives when operating out of the capital, to forbid the movement of trucks and trailers from the depot that do not comply with Bharat Stage IV emission standards (BS-IV) and employ small vehicles which are CNG-powered for the mode of transportation.

  • The containers brought up to the Inland Container Depot (ICD) were found to have added value to the management framework due to the concept of “carrying capacity” relevant to the concept of sustainability. In NCT Delhi, a comparable assessment is required in light of the current situation.
  • The NGT issued interim orders placed by the application submitted by the respondent. By the contested ruling dated 8th March 2019, the NGT issued a directive to the appellant, mandating that diesel vehicles cease to visit the ICD and gradually transition to CNG, electric, and hybrid vehicles. The Tribunal noted that restricting the admission of diesel cars to the satellite terminals (ICDs) at Dadri, Rewari, Ballabhgarh, Khatuawas, or any other ICD in the Delhi region was the other option. This will guarantee that diesel vehicles do not enter the Delhi NCR, the Tribunal noted. The NGT’s contested order set a six-month deadline for following the aforementioned instructions. Within one month time, an action plan was required to be submitted. 
  • The Supreme Court (SC) notified the parties of the current appeal on 22nd April 2019, and ordered that the appellant would not be subjected to coercion in response to the contested order. When the SC realised on 10th February 2020, that there was going to be no resolution, it directed the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) to investigate the problems brought up in the appeal and provide a report with its recommendations. EPCA was established by SC’s directives to preserve and enhance the quality of the local environment of the state capital.
  • The Ministry of Railways has formally submitted an affidavit outlining its position on the recommendations made in the report.
    The Appellant submitted in writing outlining the actions it has taken replying to the EPCA’s recommendations as well as action taken to those recommendations.
    The EPCA’s recommendations were the only topic of discussion throughout this court’s session. The parties’ learned counsel has been heard regarding the aforementioned report in the apex court.
  • For the past few decades, air pollution especially in the category of pollution has been a major concern. People’s quality of life is impacted by air pollution which is harmful to one’s health. The fundamental rights of Indian citizens, as stated in Article 21 of the Constitution are directly impacted by air pollution. Living in a pollution-free environment is one of the rights to life protected by Article 21. Given the extreme air pollution that Delhi NCT and Delhi NCR areas have experienced in recent months in the category ranging from unhealthy to hazardous air quality.
  1. The practicability of switching to electric or CNG or hybrid motor vehicles as instructed by the NGT in the order was called into question.
  2. The problem of limiting and minimising the entry of destined diesel vehicles at the stated ICD and the problem of diverting non-destined diesel automobiles to neighbouring ICDs.
  3. The issue brought forth congestion and inadequate parking options at ICDs.
  2. Argument from the Respondent’s side: 
  • Respondent no. 1, a previous Executive Director of Central Warehousing Corporation had filed an original application under sections 14, 15 and 18(1) of the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 (NGTA) in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) highlighting the grave problem of pollution caused by Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Tughlakabad, the South East District of New Delhi.
  • The application filed by the party claimed that the aforementioned ICD is utilised for delivery and pickup to and from areas outside of Delhi by vehicles and trailers that are not headed for Delhi.
  • He stated the fact that the substantial number of trucks and trailers entering the aforementioned ICD has resulted in a significant increase in air pollution in Delhi NCR because of emissions from these vehicles. And further added that it is possible to divert the influx of trucks and trailers away from the Delhi NCR and towards other ICDs in the Delhi region.
  • Thus, Respondent no. 1 requested direction to the appellant, the Container Corporation of India Ltd., and the Railway Board to move the operations of the aforementioned ICD at present at Tughlakabad that are not headed for Delhi to other places outside of Delhi.
  • The second directive was to forbid the entering of the trailers or containers at the aforementioned ICD at Tughlakabad, that are not headed to Delhi and that are only intended for the use of CNG- or battery-operated lift trucks or empty handlers and other small-size vehicles. Electric trains were to be used in place of diesel locomotives when moving freight into and out of the ICD. 
  1. Argument from the Appellant’s side: 
  • The Container Corporation, the Appellant, disputed the aforementioned application.
  • It was contended that the transport of cargoes that are meant for consumption in the capital is done via railway lines which ends in the premises of the above-mentioned ICD. Should the ICD be diverted, more goods will be transported by road from Indian ports to Delhi, increasing the cargo trucks’ travel distance which will lead to an increase in air pollution.
  • It was said that the aforementioned ICD is perfectly situated to serve Delhi’s population needs without interfering with the city’s residential regions. 
  • Figures from the EPCA report were reviewed by the SC which serves as an example of how many cars entered the specified ICD in January 2020. 22,082 vehicles with an average capacity of 19 metric tonnes were recorded as entering the specified ICD in the report, of which 16,562 were larger diesel-powered vehicles, accounting for 75% of the total vehicles. A mere 25% of the vehicles were CNG-powered, with an average weight of 6 metric tonnes. 
  • It shows that 534 diesel vehicles entered the aforementioned ICD daily. These numbers need to be understood in the context of the IIT Kanpur’s 2016 pollution inventory. According to the inventory, trucks that enter Delhi account for about half of all the pollution that is produced by vehicles in the capital. For this reason, the Delhi NCR Air Pollution Prevention Orders have been issued by the Apex Court on multiple occasions.
  • It was vital to comprehend the importance of an ICD or a dry port in the logistics and transportation chain before the Court addressed the suggestions and the positions offered by the parties. An ICD is a building constructed inland that acts as a centre for the handling of containerised freight for regional imports and exports. This terminal is intermodal and has direct access to a seaport. It is acknowledged by the customs department as an expanded portion of the seaports. It functions as a facility that provides services for the handling and short-term storage of containers loaded for import or export. Train transportation connects it to ports. 
  • The EPCA’s recommendations, even if it acknowledges the necessity of switching vehicles to cleaner fuels like CNG, hybrids, or electric, the EPCA noted that there were constraints imposed by the technology. It should be highlighted that the heavy-duty vehicle category utilised for container transportation does not yet have access to any alternative fuel technology. It has been noted that one of the main obstacles to long-distance driving across India is the availability of alternate fuel. Because BS-VI heavy-duty diesel cars are far cleaner than BS-IV heavy-duty vehicles, the EPCA advised utilising them.
    As a result, it was suggested that the Ministry of Transport and Highways develop a strong and efficient programme for heavy-duty diesel vehicle scrappage and replacement with BSVI vehicles.
  • The EPCA also mentioned in their study that the aforementioned ICD is one of seven such facilities that are close to Delhi. Only the aforementioned ICD and the ICD in Rewari are being used to the amount of 60% or more of their capacity, according to the numbers included in the report; the other ICDs are still being underutilised. Consequently, EPCA suggested that the appellant create a strategy for making the best use of ICDs in the Delhi area, which will ultimately result in a decrease in the utilisation of that particular ICD.
  • To reduce pollution in Delhi NCR, the NGT has noted, among other things, that it is possible to limit the entry of diesel vehicles into the aforementioned ICDs at Tughlakabad by rerouting these vehicles via the ICDs at Dadri, Rewari, Ballabhgarh, Khatuawas, or any other ICD nearby. This suggests that only residents of Delhi NCR are entitled to a pollution-free environment, not those who live elsewhere in the nation.

The NGT’s statement reflects its total disregard for the fact that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees citizens living in all regions of the nation, not only the Delhi NCR, the fundamental right to an environment free from pollution. It is completely improper and unreasonable for the NGT to make such a statement.

  • To curb air pollution in the capital, committees such as the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) have been made but there is a lack of effective execution. World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines have given guidelines for ambient outdoor pollution levels which India should follow.
  • Air pollution is a major issue in the Delhi region and a robust policy needs to be framed for tackling the grave problem of air pollution by phasing out heavy-duty diesel vehicles with less polluting cleaner alternatives such as BS VI, CNG or hybrid or electric vehicles as vehicular pollution are the largest contributor of air pollution in the capital according to reports from collaboration of Delhi government and IIT Kanpur.
  • The Apex Court also emphasized the proper utilization of the ICDs around Delhi within 6 months of its order as per recommendations made by EPCA. Central laboratories were asked to be set up by the official authorities near ICDs around Delhi and the appellant was asked by the Court to implement the recommendations of Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), a mobility and logistics services group in February 2021 for improving the management of parking facilities in the stated ICDs.

Submitted By: 

Name: Divyani Newar

Name of the College: National Education Foundation Law College, Guwahati, Assam, India.