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Unfit vehicles pass PUC test, no set norms in Delhi

By, New Delhi
Oct 20, 2023 10:53 PM IST

In Delhi, it appears to be easy to obtain a pollution under control (PUC) certificate for vehicles, even if they exceed emission limits. An investigation found that four out of five PUC centres did not conduct the necessary checks mandated by the Delhi transport department. The PUC test for diesel vehicles measures smoke density, which should not exceed 0.7 per metre for BS-6 vehicles. The investigation found that many unfit vehicles were passing the test, highlighting gaps in the regulation of PUC centres. The Delhi Traffic Police has issued 158,762 challans to owners of vehicles without PUCs so far this year.

100 and five minutes — that’s all it apparently takes to get a pollution under control (PUC) certificate in Delhi, even if your vehicle exceeds the designated emission mark.

A visibly polluting vehicle on the streets of Delhi. (HT Photo)
A visibly polluting vehicle on the streets of Delhi. (HT Photo)

From August 24 to September 5, and then again on October 13 and 14, HT took a spin around town in a five-year-old black Hyundai Creta diesel car and got PUC certificates from five centres across the Capital. While most PUC centres are at petrol pumps, some are stand-alone too.

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Four out of the five centres that HT visited did not conduct the standard checks mandated by the Delhi transport department needed to provide a PUC certificate. Last October, the Delhi government made it mandatory to have PUC certificates for getting fuel, a step towards controlling pollution in the city. But a year on, spot checks by HT found gaps in the regulation of PUC centres that seem to be ensuring that many unfit vehicles are passing the test.

The PUC test of diesel vehicles indicates the smoke density, which should not be more than 0.7 per metre for BS-6 vehicles. For petrol and CNG vehicles, carbon monoxide (CO) and Hydrocarbon (HC) levels are checked.

For diesel vehicles – which is what HT used -- if the emission crosses this limit of 0.7 per metre, one does not get a valid PUC document. After servicing, the vehicle must undergo a PUC test again to get the certificate.

According to the Delhi transport department, the test is to be conducted using a gas analyser connected to a computer. “The vehicle is supposed to be switched on when the gas analyser is connected to the silencer or the tailpipe of the vehicle and the reading is recorded by the computer,” said an official.

For petrol vehicles, the car is kept idling (switched on but in neutral gear) during the test, and for diesel vehicles, the accelerator is supposed to be pressed to capacity four-five times to get the correct value.

Meanwhile, a camera or a webcam connected to the computer is supposed to take a photo of the number plate of the vehicle.

Barring one, none of the centres that HT visited followed all the rules.

Once a PUC is obtained, another PUC can only be issued after five hours by any centre. On August 24, however, the HT vehicle got PUC certificates twice within two hours.

“There are 948 centres registered in Delhi and about 20 ground staff who conduct regular inspections. We’ve increased checking at these centres and continuously penalise them or send notices if they are found to be issuing fake PUC without proper checks or if they do not have functional equipment,’ said an official in the department of transport, Delhi.Last week, the department penalised 100 such vehicles.

This year, till October, Delhi Traffic Police has issued 158,762 challans to owners of vehicles without PUCs, showed police data. During the corresponding period in 2021 and 2022, the number of challans were 52,388 and 108,100 respectively.

The Green Park PUC centre was the only one that followed all the steps. Attendants at some of the centres told HT that they almost never conduct any tests to check emissions and hardly give rejection slips.

A 2017 report by Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) on the “assessment of the PUC programme,” said that nearly all vehicles pass the tests.

“Due to poor recording of failed tests and due to very lax norms, the overall failure rate in Delhi is 4.69%. For the diesel vehicles tested, the failure rate stands at 1.68%, compared to 5.18% for petrol vehicles and 4.65% for all other fuel categories. This requires urgent attention and action. Poor failure rate is not only a reflection of poorly done tests and poor data keeping, it is also a reflection of very lax PUC norms that rarely fail the vehicles,” the report mentioned.

The differing values show that the emission values either change from day to day or that the equipment is not calibrated properly.

“The readings cannot be standard as the machines can be bought from different companies at various places. There is no single or standard machine. However, the variation is supposed to be minor or negligible,” said a transport department official, requesting anonymity.

In October 2022, when the campaign to enforce obtaining PUC certificates started, there were 1.7 million defaulters. By December 2022, 300,000 of these 1.7 million defaulters got the PUC certificate, as per transport department figures.

There still around 5.4 million vehicles — including two-wheelers, four-wheelers, and commercial vehicles — whose PUC certificates have expired, according to Parivahan portal.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at CSE, said PUC centres need to be checked regularly and smart monitoring of the system is required to ensure that valid tests are conducted. “Additionally, it is required that the emissions monitoring system is upgraded with remote sensing and other techniques,” she added.

Other experts say that the testing criteria need to change.

“These PUC tests are often conducted when a vehicle is switched on but not moving, and these tests assess carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and air-fuel ratio for petrol, CNG, and LPG vehicles, and also include a smoke density test for diesel vehicles. These tests, however, overlook crucial pollutants like particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx),” said Amit Bhatt, managing director (India), International Council of Clean Transport (ICCT).

Bhatt said that smoke density isn’t an accurate PM proxy. “India needs to shift towards real-world emission measurements, reimagining its emission testing procedure,” Bhatt added.

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