The Delhi High Court on Wednesday bluntly told the AAP government that it could send its officials to jail for contempt of Supreme Court’s 19-year old direction to augment its bus fleet, but the city needed more buses now rather than officials in prison.
"We can still send you to jail. But what the city needs is buses, not you in jail," the court said as it also pulled up the Delhi government for not buying low floor disabled- friendly CNG buses in the last 10 years on the ground that their cost was unrealistic.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar questioned the basis for the Delhi governments assessment that the cost cited by Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland for supplying the buses was "unrealistic, exorbitant and unjustifiable".
"If you are comparing low floor buses with standard floor buses to say the cost is unrealistic, then it is like comparing apples with oranges. Take a practical, pragmatic and realistic view," the court said.
"For the last 10 years you have justified not buying low floor buses saying the price was unrealistic without saying what is realistic or carrying out an empirical study," it said, adding "we are pained by this".
The court said if there was only a single manufacturer of a specialised product, then the government should go for it by taking into account the interests of the disabled persons as well as the environment.
"You should see what you are balancing the cost against," the bench said to the Delhi government.
The court has impleaded Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland as parties in the matter so that they can inform it about the basis for the costs of their low floor CNG buses.
The bench was hearing a PIL by a person suffering from locomotor disability challenging the Delhi governments move to procure 2,000 standard floor buses at a cost of Rs 300 crore.
During the hearing, advocate Sanjoy Ghose, appearing for the Delhi government, said the PIL be dismissed as the petitioner -- Nipun Malhotra -- has moved a contempt plea for not procuring low floor buses when the bench had allowed the purchase of the 2,000 standard floor buses.
The bench did not agree with the contention of the Delhi government, saying its officials can be held in contempt and sent to jail for not complying with the Supreme Courts 1998 direction to augment its bus fleet from 5,000 to 10,000.
"The contempt plea does not preclude us from issuing directions to you to get the buses," the court said while terming the Delhi governments stand as "recalcitrant and unfortunate".
Advocate Jai Dehadrai, appearing for the petitioner, said a contempt plea was moved since, according to a 2007 high court judgement, no bus which does not have low floor can be registered by the transport department.
However, till date several thousand standard floor buses have been registered in violation of the judgement, Dehadrai said and added that his client would pursue the plea for contempt action.
With regard to the Delhi governments argument that they need more land for parking before procuring additional low floor buses, the court did not accept the contention and said "get the buses first".
The bench said if the land is made available first, then by the time the buses are procured, it would be encroached upon.