Nepal Supreme Court Bans Import of Polluting Vehicles

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, January 24, 2001 (ENS) - In a sweeping ruling, the Nepal Supreme Court on Monday ordered the government to immediately stop the import of Indian vehicles not meeting Euro-I emission standards. The smoke belching vehicles are a primary cause of pollution in the Kathmandu Valley which contains eight sites listed in UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Supreme Court ruling overturns the decision by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to allow the import of Indian vehicles into the country that may violate Nepal's emission standards.

An agreement signed between Nepal and India during Koirala's visit to India last year allows the import into Nepal of any type of vehicle produced in India which can show an "environment friendly" certificate given by its manufacturer, not by the government of India.

Kathmandu

Durbar Marg, the road leading to the Royal Palace in Kathmandu (Photo courtesy Rojal Pradhan)
This is a clear violation of the law requiring a certification of Conformity of Production and Type Approval by the vehicle's producing country's government or government institutions, say environmentalists. The Supreme Court agreed.

"The agreement breaches the Nepal Vehicular Emission Standard 1999 under Environment Protection Law 1996, and Environment Protection Regulations 1997," says Prakash Mani Sharma of Pro-Public, an NGO acting in the public interest which filed the writ of petition against the Prime Minister, Minister of Environment and other government agencies.

"With the Court's ruling, I am hopeful that the import of pollutant vehicles would be stopped in the future and the standard pollution control measures would be implemented," says Bhoj Raj Ayer of Pro-Public.

The government has taken action to mitigate air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley. In a cabinet decision last year, the government banned diesel fueled three-wheelers, popularly known as Vikram Tempos, from the streets of Kathmandu Valley. These 12 seaters are the main cause of air pollution here, many studies have shown.

The Department of Transportation has outlawed new registrations of Vikram Tempos throughout the country effective immediately.

The Department of Transportation has set the threshold of exhaust for diesel vehicles at 65 HSU (Hetridge Smoke Unit). Indian made Vikram Tempos never pass the emission tests.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu Durbar Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the Hindu temples shown here date from the 15th to 18th century. (Photo courtesy City of Kathmandu)
The demands of people for cleaner air are now being heard, but there is a long way to go, experts say. "Until or unless road conditions and vehicles conditions are improved, no desirable result can be achieved," says Tribhuwan University zoologist Narendra Khadka. "An integrated comprehensive approach should be taken including traffic management, road and vehicle maintenance, industrial locations, solid waste management and drainage systems," he suggests.

"The situation is grim for Kathmandu's air quality in terms of respirable particulate concentrations. These concentrations are comparable to industrial situations like those of mining areas," Khadka says.

The overpolluted air of this bowl shaped valley, nearly 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) in area, is a daily problem for its residents. "A black layer of smoke and dust sets on my face in a couple of hours of walking in the streets," says Rabindra Shrestha, a school teacher.

Households are affected, too. "I am fed up with the dust which covers everything in my kitchen, drawing room, bedroom, everywhere," says Manju Sharma, a housewife. Manju's house is 50 meters ((162 feet) away from a busy street in the city.

Sthapit

Keshav Sthapit is mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City. He is working to make the city "clean, green and, healthy." (Photo courtesy Office of the Mayor)
The levels of smog, a mixture of gas, dust and moisture, here are three to four times higher than than levels declared healthful by the World Health Organization. "The obtained gaseous pollutant levels in Kathmandu have risen by a factor of two to three in the last five years showing a rapid upward spiral. Vehicular emissions and city road conditions are the prime sources of air pollutants besides industrial emissions," states a report by Nepal Environmental and Scientific Services which has been monitoring the city's air since last year.

Over 100,000 vehicles travel over about 800 kilometers (500 miles) of streets in the capital city of this Himalayan Kingdom, most of which are muddy and are not black-topped. The city is home to around 1.5 million people.

Besides poor road conditions, the lack of proper monitoring of the maintenance of vehicles adds to the problem.

Even more serious, there are three industrial estates within the Kathmandu Valley that emit enormous amounts of pollutants. Located in city residential areas, they are home to steel, plastic, battery and food processing industries. Adding pollutants to the air is a cement factory within the valley which belches dusts round the clock.

Worried by the deteriorating situation, environmentalists are demanding an effective solution. While activists have been launching anti-pollution movements, experts are lobbying for effective legal frameworks.

journalists

Meeting of the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (Photo courtesy NEFEJ)
Journalists can be activists in Nepal. The Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) is one of the leading non-governmental organizations lobbying for an end to air pollution.

Interaction programs with experts, concerned officials and other media persons are a regular features of NEFEJ. "We are determined to make the public aware of the hazards of pollutants. Through our multi-media approach, we aim to convince decision makers to bring about better living conditions," says NEFEJ general secretary Mohan Bista.

Explorer Nepal, a non-governmental organization, is among anti-pollution activist groups campaigning for cleaner air. "We organize protests, rallies and other programs for people's health," says an official at Explorer Nepal.

Not only journalists and activists are fighting environmental degradation. Lawyers have been filing cases in the public interest to prompt judicial action for environmental and nature conservation.

Under mounting pressure from all these quarters, the Supreme Court of Nepal and the government have taken steps towards tackling air pollution of this historic city.

temple

Pasupatinath is considered one of the holiest shrines of all the Hindu temples and is attended by ruling Nepalese Royalty. A UNESCO World Heritage site on the banks of the Bagmati river, this two tiered golden temple with four triple silver doorways shows signs of air pollution. (Photo courtesy City of Kathmandu)
The Supreme Court last year ordered the Ministry of Environment to set up thresholds for air emissions, noise levels, effluent discharges into rivers, sewage and radiation from industries located across the country.

Nepal's Environment Protection Act of 1997 provides for mitigating environmental pollution but leaves the responsibility to the government for specifying thresholds and limitations for polluting exhausts.

In another recent ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the government to ensure the treatment of sewage before releasing it into the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers, two major rivers flowing through the Kathmandu Valley.

Since the city sewage is now drains untreated directly into these rivers, Kathmandu has effectively turned the rivers into open sewage drains. Environmentalists have repeatedly demanded sewage treatment, in vain.

Environmentalists are encouraged by recent developments. "Public awareness is a must against environmental degradation," says Supreme Court advocate Bharat Mani Gautam. Gautam filed the petition in the Supreme Court demanding treatment of sewage before draining it into the rivers.

"Together we the people can make things better by pressuring the government and the courts," Gautam says, hopefully.