Supreme Court verdict on BS-IV norms: What & Why

By invoking its authority as the “Guardian of the Constitution”, the Supreme Court, in a case related to the implementation of BS-IV norms, made it clear that Public Health concerns are far more important than the Commercial Interests of manufacturers.

Created On: Mar 30, 2017 19:24 IST

The Supreme Court of India on 29 March 2017 called for a blanket ban on the sell as well as the registration of Bharat Stage III (BS-III) compliant vehicles. It asked the government, concerned authorities and the automobile industry to switch over to the BS-IV compatible vehicles beginning on 1 April 2017.

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A directive of the Union Government, released in 2010, allows the production of BS-III compliant vehicles till 1 April 2017. However, there was no deadline in the directive regarding the sale of these vehicles.

In view of the possibility of sale of BS-III vehicles for an extended period beyond April 2017, the EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority), a governmental agency, has approached the Court to ensure that the “1 April 2017” deadline is applicable even for the sale of the vehicles too.

By considering the EPCA’s plea, the Court directed the automobile manufacturers not to sell the BS-III vehicles and the authorities under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 to not to register them if they are sold after 1 April 2017.

Bharat Stage Norms

• Bharat Stage (BS) emission standards were introduced in 2000 in line with recommendations made by the RA Mashelkar Committee.

• These are emission standards that have been set up the Union Government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.

• These BS standards are based on European regulations, which are considered as benchmarks in many of the developed and developing countries.

• Subsequently, the Union Government came with a road map for the implementation of the BS-I to BS-VI (corresponding to Euro 1 – Euro 6).

• Accordingly, BS-I norms were rolled out in 2000, BS-II between 2001 and 2005 and BS-III between 2005 and 2010.

• In 2010 itself, the BS-IV were enforced in 13 major cities, where the availability of the fuel is not a constraint.

• In 2016, the Government announced that the country will switch over to BS-VI from the BS-IV by skipping the BS-V.

• The decision for rolling out of the BS-VI regime, from April 2020 onwards, was taken in view of the growing menace of the air pollution across the country.

What’s New: BS-IV norms includes tightened NOx+HC emission limits, harmonization of the emission testing cycle and the definition of motorcycle classes with the UNECE Global Technical Regulation 2 (GTR-2). These norms also require significant changes in the design and capabilities of the vehicles.

Significance of the directive

For any government, in fact for any society, health is an essential and an uncompromising aspect. By switching over to BS-IV, we get to see a more cleaner environment as –

• A BS-IV compliant vehicle releases less pollutants, such as NO, NO2, SO2 and CO, than a BS-III compliant vehicle.

• A shift from BS-III to BS-IV will result in an 80% reduction in particulate matter (PM) emissions from heavy duty vehicles. Similarly, the move will result in a 50 % reduction in PM from cars.

In a country where 2 people die every minute (Lancet Report 2017) due to air pollution, every step towards reduction in the air pollution levels is of a much significance.

On the global front, this move will help India in reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level, which is a commitment made by the Government under the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the UNFCCC.

Problems in its implementation

In fact, the only concern in its implementation is how to get rid of the present stock? As per a submission of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers’ (SIAM) to the Supreme Court, there are about eight lakh unsold BS-III vehicles in the country.

They include 96,724 commercial vehicles, 6,71,305 two-wheelers, 16,198 four-wheelers and 40,048 three-wheelers; which cumulatively account for Rs 15,000 crore.

Further, as the time span between the Court’s verdict and the ‘deadline’ is very less, the manufacturers have to either export them or have to ‘dump’ them. Any of these two choices will result in significant financial losses to the companies and could trigger job losses.

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This measure is enough to make the air cleaner?

Definitely not. Because, pollution from vehicles is the not the only contributor to the overall air pollution. There are other factors, such as biomass burning, mining, power generation plants have an adverse impact on the air quality in the country.

Added to this, by looking at the number of vehicles coming on to the roads every year, the present directive by the Court looks so ‘tiny’.

Hence, the Government should take up/initiate measures such as –

• Promoting public transportation instead of personal vehicles

• Encourage the use of renewable, alternate and cleaner fuels such as solar and wind

• Strengthening the Air Pollution Act, 1981 to prescribe more stringent punishments


Way back in 1992, in the Society For Clean Environment Vs Union Of India case, the apex court expanded the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by including the “Right to Clean Environment” as an integral part of the “Right to Life, Liberty and the Security of Person.”

By reaffirming its faith in this principle in letter and spirit, the Court made it clear that public health is far more important than “commercial interests” of manufacturers. This decision of the Supreme Court and the cooperation extended by the industry in implementing will go a long way in making India a cleaner, safer and healthier society.

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