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Emission Testing to be streamlined further

B.D.L. Dharmapriya

Environmental pollution had been increasing rapidly in Urban and suburban areas of the country with the introduction of free economic policies in the late seventies, mainly due to the massive rise in the number of vehicles plying the roads every minute of the day. It has been estimated that 65 - 70 percent of the city air pollution is caused by vehicular emissions.

The necessity for remedial measures of some sort had been felt for a while and the authorities carried out surveys and conducted a number of different programs to combat this menace without complete success.

Dr. Nishantha Nanayakkara

The vehicle Emission Testing Program is the outcome of a fundamental rights case filed by a citizen in 1999. During the progress of this FR case (No. SC/569/98 dated November 2, 1999), the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Environment to prepare and regulate vehicle emissions, fuel and importation standards of vehicles. Subsequently, the regulations were gazetted in 2000 under the national Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980. Those regulations were amended in 2003.

A number of steps was taken by the Government to create a suitable mechanism to enforce the regulations namely; The establishment of Air Resource Management Centre (AirMac) as a multi-stakeholder organisation to work out all policies related to air quality in Sri Lanka.

Fuel quality

Introduction of unleaded petrol Provision of low sulphur diesel-Sulphur level reduction from 10,000 ppm to 8,000-5,000 ppm by 2003.

 A vehicle being tested

Belching vehicles

 A service centre

Sulphur level reduction upto 3,000 ppm by 2004 and Super diesel 500 ppm by 2004 optional Sulphur level at 500 ppm by 2007 (due to the lack of resources at the CPC, this would be implemented by the end of this year) Banning the import of two-stroke three-wheelers from 2008

Preliminary activities

Preliminary activities for the vehicle Emission Testing (VET) program started in 2003. However it was officially commenced only in mid-2008 due to various constraints. Two private companies selected to implement the system were required to invest on VET centres, equipment and other facilities for the smooth implementation of the program. Each company was asked to establish fixed and mobile centres.

Investment capital

Each company has invested more than Rs.400-500 million to build VET centres throughout the island, except in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The VET program is implemented by the Commissioner of Motor Traffic through Revenue Licence procedures. The annual revenue licence is issued by the Provincial Commissioner of Motor Traffic through the Divisional Secretariat office. As such, prior to the implementation of the program, all officials linked to this process had to undergo training in addition to the technical personnel of the Motor Traffic Department, the Police and other related training institutions.

The AirMac carried out awareness programs to cover all stakeholders.

The training program was carried out prior to the commencement of the VET program.

Vehicle Emission Testing program in the country has been developed as a nationwide program with the main objective of controlling air pollution in Colombo and other Urban cities caused by vehicular emissions.

This program adopts a comprehensive strategy comprising the development of effective monitoring regulatory and enforcement mechanisms and policies establishment and strengthening of institutional structure, development of sustainable program for capacity building, training and skills development and mass awareness and education.

The program is designed as a public-private partnership and is a centralised system with two private sector companies - Laughfs Eco Sri (Pvt) Ltd. And Cleanco Lanka Pvt) Ltd - authorised to issue the Vehicle Emission Testing certificates.

It became mandatory to have the VET certificate to obtain the annual revenue licence in the Western Province from November 17, 2008. Other Provinces such as the Central, North Central and Southern Provinces started the process on June 22, 2009 while the North Western, Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces followed suit on December 15, 2009.

Implementing agency of the program is the department of Motor Traffic; monitoring and evaluation is carried out by the Air Resource Management Centre of the Ministry of Environment.

The two private companies which are authorised to issue the certificates operated 155 centres across seven provinces in the island at the commencement of the program. Both companies have subsequently increased the number of centres, to cater to the ever increasing demand for VET certificates.

The introduction of this system to reduce air pollution caused by vehicular emissions is no doubt commendable. However, after two years of the system being in operation, a number of public complaints from all corners of the country has been received with regard to the issuance of the VET certificates.

Public complaints

The main complaint is that there are touts or agents outside the Divisional Secretary offices who are prepared to get the VET certificates for the vehicle owners on the payment of a few hundred rupees more than the certificate value without even seeing the vehicle.

Some vehicle owners who had claimed that their vehicles are quite new and their emission negligible, have still found their vehicles failing the test and being asked to tune up their vehicle engines and reproduce them for inspection.

Another common complaint is that some vehicles which had failed the test at one centre passing the test at another centre without any work done on the vehicle.

Yet another common complaint is that even after passing the test, some vehicles belch clouds of smoke, inconveniencing other motorists and pedestrians in addition to polluting the air.

Some vehicle owners have complained that they do not have confidence about the accuracy of the testing equipment of some centres where their vehicles had failed the test.

Some vehicle owners also believe that the technicians who carry out the vehicle testing are not qualified or trained to get the correct readings and that as a result, vehicle owners are unnecessarily victimised.

Vehicle owners have also complained that some testing centres are not upto the required standards; that they are filthy and dusty and that it is doubtful if they would issue a valid certificate to the customers.

Likewise, there have been a large number of different complaints made by vehicle owners with regard to the process of obtaining Vehicle Emission Testing certificates.

The Sunday Observer spoke to a few of the top professionals involved in the exercise. Their comments are as follows:

Commissioner of Motor Traffic, B.D.L. Dharmapriya

Q: Your Department is the sole implementing agency for the issuance of Vehicle Emission Testing certificate for customers. There are many complaints from the public with regard to this certificate issuing process. What action have you taken to arrest this situation?

A: I am quite aware of all these allegations which I do not deny.

I do not wish to whitewash any of the miscreants. But you have to understand the fact that when a novel project is implemented, solely for the benefit of the public, it is inevitable that there are shortcomings in the initial stages.

It is only as the operation gets going that all these lapses become evident.

Now we have identified these lapses and we are in the process of rectifying them.

The main difficulty we had was the lack of qualified examiners. Now we have recruited staff, trained them and properly co-ordinated with the two private companies and other stakeholders. I am quite confident that we can mitigate corruption to a great extent in the near future.

We hope to conduct various spot checks in the different operational activities of the process.

Director Air Resource Management and International Relations Ministry of Environment Anura Jayathilake.

Q: You are one of the key personnel in formulating the VET program in the country. Are you satisfied with its progress? There are allegations from some vehicle owners about the issuance of the certificate. What have you got to say?

A: Yes, We launched this system after a careful study of the area, which had been a pressing need for ages.

We are quite happy with the positive achievements so far, but we are not fully contented and are still in the process of improving the system to reach greater heights.

Our evaluations and assessments have proved the improvements we have made in reducing air pollution in different cities.

We have launched a number of educational and awareness programs with the participation of all stakeholders including school teachers and children to enhance the quality of this program.

Of course, we have financial constraints to initiate all our plans, but with the limited resources available I trust that our efforts have been successful.

Yes, with regard to malpractices, we hope to conduct road side checks on vehicles and take remedial measures. We hope to conduct joint operations with RMV officials and Traffic Police against members of the public who violate the VET regulations and bring them to book.

About the testing equipment, I would like to say that we have given both companies the required specifications of all equipment and facilities, and they adhere to the standards.

However, we conduct surprise checks on service centres and if we find any lapses or shortcomings, we will be compelled to take disciplinary action against them.

Director of CleanCo Lanka (Pvt) Ltd Dr. Nishantha Nanayakkara

Q: As a major stakeholder of this gigantic project, which has a great impact on the environment of the city, are you happy with the services you render to the country and its success?

A: Well, I can safely say that we have adhered to 75 percent of the RFP requirements. If we meet 100 percent of the RFP requirements, ours will be the best Vehicle Emission Testing program in the world. We are quite happy with what we have achieved so far.

Q: What have you got to say about the alleged malpractices taking place in your centres? There is also public perception that people can get bogus certificates without even going to these centres. Are these claims true?

A: In CleanCo stations, the possibility of bogus certificates is less than one or two percent. There is no possibility of manipulations. Our ESP equipment are some of the most advanced and tamper proof equipment in the market. Our company has commissioned independent auditing agencies to conduct covert audits and there is a zero tolerance policy on malpractices or misconduct. It should be stated that our employees are adequately compensated, which prevent them from resorting to malpractices.

There are rumours I know, but it is the responsibility of the government agencies to investigate these and take preventive action.

We are a licensed operator and cannot involve in policing.

We strongly support all efforts by Government agencies to conduct audits and prosecute all violators of these regulations, as per the prevailing laws of the country.

RMV and AirMac should, along with the police, have properly equipped teams to conduct roadside testing of belching vehicles. This will severely restrict motorists obtaining bogus certificates.


Posted on Friday, December 02, 2011 @ 05:11:23 LKT


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