NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed a desire to interact with Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari in open court on the Centre's plan for the introduction of electric vehicles(EVs), noting he has been making statements on this subject for reducing vehicular pollution.
The top court, however, did not seek Gadkari's presence after the law officer, appearing for the Centre, raised objections, saying there could be a "political issue" if the minister makes a court appearance.
The court, hearing a PIL seeking implementation of National E-Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), 2020 said it would like to interact with the minister as he has been talking about the use of alternative fuels in private and public transport vehicles modes.
The plan recommended gradual conversion of public transport and government vehicles into EVs, "Your minister talks about it. We would like to hear him. Somebody responsible should come," Chief Justice S A Bobde, who headed a three-judge bench, told Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, who was representing the Centre.
The bench, which also comprised justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, then asked can the minister come and explain the proposal to introduce non-polluting vehicles that can run either on electricity or hydrogen.
Nadkarni then raised objections observing , "the issue of the minister coming here in the court will become a political issue.
Gadkari is the minister for Surface Transport and Highways.
The court then responded to say, "We understand that Mr Prashant Bhushan (counsel for NGOs) is a political person but he is not going to argue with the minister. We are not doing it at his instance."
Without seeking the presence of Gadkari, the top court further said: "We consider it appropriate that all the issues be considered simultaneously with the assistance of the authority empowered to take decisions."
During the hearing, the bench said the vehicular pollution is one of the main reasons for air pollution, but people talk about firecrackers and stubble burning which are primarily temporary reasons.
"This is related to many other issues like firecracker and burning of stubble. People are going against burning of firecrackers which happened once in a year but this (vehicle pollution) is happening daily. Nobody talks about the vehicle pollution," the bench said.
The bench said the issue of use of EVs as public and private transport was connected to several other issues and "has a great impact on the environment not only in the National Capital Region (NCR) but in the whole country".
The bench then fixed the PIL filed by NGOs, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), Common Cause and Sita Ram Jindal Foundation for hearing after four weeks.
Bhushan, appearing for the NGOs, said that as per the NEMMP, 2020 EVs were to be procured by the government.
The authorities were also required to provide charging points for electric vehicles at public places like malls and petrol pumps, he said.
Bhushan also said that under the scheme the authorities were required to promote sale of the EVs by providing subsidies and the amount of subsidies can be arranged by imposing taxes and cess on petro and diesel-run vehicles.
In his submission, Nadkarni submitted that the Centre has procured around 1,000 EVs and orders for 1,000 more have already been placed and moreover, the possibility of whether Indian automobile majors can venture into production of the EVs is also being explored.
Earlier, the apex court had sought the Centre's reply on the PIL seeking implementation of the NEMMP, 2020.
It had decided to make the Ministry of Surface Transport and Highways and the minister concerned parties to the petition.
The PIL alleged that the citizens' rights to health and clean environment under the Constitution are being "violated due to governmental apathy" in mitigating the impact of climate change and air pollution "partly attributable to emissions from vehicles that burn fossil fuels".
The NGOs have said the government in 2012 had come out with the NEMMP, which contained several recommendations for adoption of EVs including that "government fleets and public transportation should be mandated to switch to Electric Vehicles".
The plan suggested subsidies for the purchase of EVs as also tax and policy incentives, besides providing for the "requisite charging infrastructure by mandating fast and normal charging points in apartment buildings, parking lots, government offices, malls etc".
The government has not been able to implement the scheme successfully, the PIL claimed.