EPCA or Environmental Pollution - Prevention and Control is a Supreme Court-appointed body. As per Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, every BS-III emission-compliant motor vehicle needs to go for a pollution test every three months while BS-IV vehicles have to take the test annually.
According to estimates of EPCA, every quarter there should be be around 59 lakh PUC tests in Delhi, but "the period of November 2016 to January 2017 (3 months) shows tests of only 13.7 lakh vehicles", which works out to a compliance rate of 23.2 per cent.
"A large number of vehicles in Delhi remain outside the PUC testing network," the report states, adding that even among the vehicles turning up for tests, the failure rate is extremely low and that the existing norms cannot even identify at least 15 to 20 per cent grossly polluting vehicles in the on-road fleet.
"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 per cent. For the diesel vehicles tested, the failure rate stands at 1.68 per cent, compared to 5.18 per cent for petrol vehicles," it says.
A serious flaw is the fact that failed tests are not recorded as vehicle owners refuse to pay the test fee if their vehicles fail. As a result, the pass-fail data compiled by the transport departments show very poor failure rate. "It is therefore, important to mandate advance payment of fees before the test is conducted and the software should be changed accordingly to plug this loophole," the audit says.
According to the report, the current PUC norms are so weak, especially for the pre-BS IV vehicles that dominate the on-road fleet, that not only do most vehicles pass the test, but a great part of them actually pass with as high as an 80 per cent margin from the norm.
"The overall assessment has revealed that there are serious quality concerns in the way PUC tests are conducted and equipment are maintained in numerous PUC centres across the NCR region.
"In Delhi alone there are 971 centres but the transport department has only 28 inspectors and among them only one inspector is available for actual on ground inspection of so many stations," the report observes.
A similar analysis has not been possible for Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, many towns of which fall in the National Capital Region, as the data is purely manual and complete data for all centres with adequate detail are not available, the EPCA said.
It has recommended making annual vehicle insurance policy mandatory and conditional with PUC certification, pending which this programme can "barely make any difference" to the air quality.