Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vehicle emission tests – another scam

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice

Things we do with genuine interest can go wrong. When I supported Lawyer Lalanath de Silva to bring a lawsuit on air pollution, it was not the expectation to generate a massive corruption cycle. But the vehicle emission testing mechanism adopted in Sri Lanka has now have created a mass corruption cycle from testing personal to the police.

During the hearing Lalanath De Silva urge the Sri Lanka`s Supreme Court to rule that citizens have a fundamental right to a healthy environment. Sri Lanka`s constitution guarantees a right to life, but Colombo`s air is so polluted that breathing it damages peoples` lungs he said. Lalanath asserts that Sri Lanka`s government — by failing to implement adequate air quality standards — is violating Sri Lankans` right to life.

It is true that well tuned engine save environment, fuel and money. However, the vehicle emission test procedure resulted on the case does not resolve the problems. The vehicles with pollution can be passed with extra charge. My own experience is a bitter story which is true for many drivers. Some old vehicles which come to the emission testing happily leave the place with a pass report. I was wondering how they do it. My vehicle failed four times this year but someone was able to obtain the emission report after paying extra 500 Rs. This cleared my doubt. I checked with many drivers and garage mechanics and several of them have gone through similar experience.

The corruption is the current emission testing procedure is not just part of the corruption culture that exists is many sectors in Sri Lanka. The non implementation of basic agreements, checks and balances that were needed before the implementation of the process are the main reasons.

Corruption in testing centers operated by both companies involve in testing programme is one of the problem. Perhaps most people see those who take bribes and pass the vehicle as their saviors to get rid of the regulation requirement. Most testing staff have no training and experience on handling and understanding the mechanical problems of a vehicle. Mean time garage mechanics don't understand the science of emission testing.

Drivers are running between the garages to the testing place to the spare parts shop blindly. They are eager to pass the vehicle to obtain the Vehicle Revenue License. They blindly listen to the mechanics and the testing people and spend money to cure the vehicle problem. In my experience testing personal doesn’t know which part should be replace or repair when the test failed. One testing place recommended me a name of an expert in the head office who was not able to contact.

Sometime garage mechanics try to make money out of this business. One mechanic suggested me to remove the engine head and clean with the cost of Rs 15,000. Then I took the vehicle to the manufacturer and they tuned the vehicle with new plugs and air filter but failed the emission test again. I found the agent even did not have an emission testing equipments at that time. If the manufacturer cannot handle the problems how can we expect mechanics to do it?

How can one expect the garage mechanics who use the eyes and ears when tuning the engine to understand the Hydrocarbon, Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide levels which are the tests do in the emission testing centres? Meantime testing persons were not able to tell me which part has the problem. Garage mechanic told me they retard the engine and reduce the petrol flow in order to pass the test, however the vehicles cannot run on the road with that fake tuning. So all the vehicles convert back to the original garage tuning in order to drive the vehicle. So this brings the vehicle back to the original pollution status. Does this resolve the vehicle pollution problem of ensure right to life?

Therefore I believe current emission test is a money making machine for many groups and for the government. As someone experienced testing people get bribe to pass the vehicle and police get bribes not to fine those polluting vehicles. I have learned that the Motor Traffic Department itself has earned 10% of the testing charges which has now come to Rs.80 million. They have done nothing to resolve the current problems of the system. Therefore I suggest that this vehicle emission testing should be suspended until testing programme
• produce accredited list of garages and train garage mechanics
• recruit well trained staff to vehicle emission testing centres who knows garage language and technical language
• Establish an advisory service for those vehicle drivers and for the mechanics to explain which part of the vehicle should be replaced or repair and give a sheet of paper with guidelines that garage should follow in order to repair a failed engine.
• develop a mechanism to stop taking bribes
• provide at least a small testing equipment to all the accredited garages

I believe that Motor traffic Department should spend the revenues from the testing charges to train garage mechanics. I also believe the AirMAC and the Motor Traffic Department should organize a monitoring and consultation mechanism to deal with the above issues with the participation of academics and civil society. I far as I know, the above are not new proposals, but the agencies have failed to implement them to date. Failure to do this will be seen as a big racket which justify the vehicle pollution with a piece of paper in hand. Finally, tell me how to tune my vehicle to pass the test in the proper way.

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