It was my first time. I was a little uncertain, somewhat ambivalent. With a driver no longer on my payrolls I was dutifully taking my car to one of the yellow boxes that have cropped up adjoining petrol pumps. To say I went out of plain diligence would be a half truth. The bigger half is that I was wary of the consequences of a polluting vehicle. Under the recently amended Motor Vehicle Act, violation of Pollution Under Control invites a penalty of Rs 10,000. Earlier it was Rs 1,000 for the first offence and twice that for repeat offenders. P.U.C as it is commonly called dictates that all vehicles be checked for emission of smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other pollutants every three months.
The centre I chose looked better than the others…..”Sarkar dwara manyata prapt asli Pradushan jaanch. Photo ke saath certificate. (Government approved genuine pollution testing. Get certificate with photo )” it claimed. Surprisingly there was no queue although sources say that the number of tests conducted have trebled after the recent announcement of ‘stricter’ rules . I pulled up and asked the attendant if I should keep the engine running for the test. He said I could switch it off. He then pulled out a webcam to take a picture of my number plate. He was gone for a few moments and then emerged with a sheet of paper. I thought it was some sort of consent form and asked if I should switch on the engine. He said it wasn’t needed and handed me my pollution control certificate. He asked me to check the date to confirm that it was valid for three months.
I was as indignant as any upright Indian would be on witnessing such blatant corruption. I berated him, asking him how he could issue a certificate without conducting the test. He stood there, eyes downcast, head hanging in shame and sheepishly said that it seemed unnecessary because the car was new. I asked him if he had the equipment needed to conduct the test to which he replied in the affirmative. I warned him not to indulge in such irresponsible behaviour and rode off on my moral high horse which in this case was a ‘non polluting” car!
Later in the day I shared the incident with a friend. He dismissed it laughing,”Don’t you know that Indian vehicles become non polluting by getting PUC certificates!” I joined him in his laughter, albeit halfheartedly. The niggling feeling of being wronged persisted. So I related the episode to my daughter. After patiently hearing me out my daughter quietly commented that we get the services we deserve. When I raised my eyebrows she added, “ He risked losing business if he acted otherwise. It was simply a’ pet ka sawal’ ( a question of livelihood). “
To further elaborate her point she asked what I would do if an uptight, ethical attendant refused to issue a certificate after finding that the pollutants of my car exhaust were above the permissible limits. Would I inconvenience myself and send the car to the service centre to investigate and get it fixed or would I simply go to some other pollution control centre and get a certificate from the one who would obligingly issue it to me.
Ah! these children ask such difficult questions ! I won’t tell you my answer to this hypothetical question. In any case, you know mine and I know yours, which is why India remains among the most polluted nations in the world.
( published in my column in The Tribune on 5/10/2019)