India court gives New Delhi 3 days to come up with plan to fight pollution

NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court has given New Delhi three days to come up with a plan to clean up the air in a city ranked by the World Health Organisation as the most polluted in the world.

Successive local governments in Delhi have failed to check pollution from industry and increasing traffic. This is not the first time the court has passed such an order after local governments failed to build roads to ease congestion.

About 52,000 commercial vehicles, excluding taxis, enter the landlocked city each day, more than double government estimates, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a report this week. Such vehicles account for about a third of the city's pollution.

"If we are able to have a strategy to address this commercial traffic, it will help clean up the air," said Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the CSE.

Hearing a plea filed by lawyer Harish Salve, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the federal government, Delhi's local government and its municipal body to come up with a solution within three days.

"Delhi's pollution levels are rising beyond dangerous levels," state Transport Minister Gopal Rai told Reuters. "If we don't address this, people will be forced to think about leaving the city to save their lives."

Rai said his government would within two months impose a surcharge of up to 1,300 rupees (S$28) on diesel-fueled trucks that enter the city. For a longer-term solution, authorities were trying to build a peripheral road to divert traffic.

An Indian court banned all vehicles older than 15 years from New Delhi earlier this year in a bid to clean up the air, but the order has since been delayed.

The WHO last year said New Delhi had the worst air quality of 1,600 cities surveyed worldwide.