Nepal Supreme Court Intervenes for Cleaner Air

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, December 18, 2000 (ENS) - The Supreme Court of Nepal has encouraged environmentalists in their campaign for cleaner air by ordering the government to justify its recent decision to allow polluting vehicles into the country.

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling after hearing a petition filed against the decision by Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to allow the import of Indian vehicles that may violate Nepali emission standards. The decision was announced during the prime minster's trip to India earlier this year.

Kathmandu

Darbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo courtesy Jeroen Neele)
An agreement was signed between Nepal and India that allows import into Nepal of any type of vehicle produced in India which displays an "environment friendly" certificate from its manufacturer. A government certificate would not then be necessary.

This is a clear violation of the Nepal Vehicular Emission Standard which took effect last year, say environmentalists.

"The agreement breaches Nepal Vehicular Emission Standard 1999 under Environment Protection Law 1996, and Environment Protection Regulations 1997," says Prakash Mani Sharma of Pro-Public which filed the writ petition against the prime minister, the minister of environment and other government officials. Pro-Public is a non-governmental organization that handles litigation in the public interest.

Nepal Vehicular Emission Standard 1996 states that it is mandatory for any vehicle entering into Nepal to have a certification of Conformity of Production and Type Approval given by the producing country's government or government institutions.

"The prime minister's decision not only goes against the government's anti-pollution drive, it shows a serious weakness in the political commitment," says scientist Dr. Toran Sharma, of Nepal Environment and Scientific Services. "The government makes commitments for the cause of environment protection on the one hand, and takes decisions overriding its commitment on the other. We can only expect a gravely polluted urban areas," he warns.

If the agreement made by the prime minister is practiced and the vehicles that only hold Type Approval certificates given by manufacturers are allowed to operate, it is for sure that the country will become an auto dumping site, experts say. Hundreds of polluting vehicles have already entered the country in the last three months.

Almost all the Indian manufactured vehicles fail to meet the emission standards, which are the Nepali version of Euro Emission Standards-I.

"It is deplorable that the democratic government goes against laws and its own decisions," says environmental journalist Kedar Sharma.

All vehicles imported into Nepal from countries other than India must display the Conformity of Production and Type Approval certification from their governments and not from the manufacturers.

While the Supreme Court is expected to give its verdict in a month or two, environmentalists are hopeful that the court will rule against pollution and will nullify the Nepal-India agreement.

"Considering the precedents set by the Supreme Court in several other environmental issues, I am very hopeful that the court will stop the import of polluting vehicles," says Prakash Sharma.