Volkswagen Passat, German
Volkswagen Passat [Representational Image]Reuters

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slapped a fine of Rs 500 crore on an automobile giant Volkswagen for "intentionally programming its diesel engines with cheat devices". NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, who heads the bench, has asked the automaker to deposit the amount within a span of two months. Earlier this year, a four-member expert panel, constituted by the NGT submitted its report on the fraud by Volkswagen where it recommended Rs 171.34 crore as a "conservative" fine for damage to health caused in India.

After 'Dieselgate', the 2015 global emission scandal was unearthed in the United States, many countries followed the suite by conducting investigations against Volkswagen. The NGT panel was formed in November 2018 and submitted its report in January this year, after assessing the report, the Tribunal recommended the fine.

Notably, Volkswagen was found guilty of violating emission norms in the US where it intentionally programmes its diesel engines with cheat devices. The cheat devices were installed on the Volkswagen cars to meet US regulatory standards. But shockingly, the vehicle were emitting upto 40 times more Nitrous Oxides (NOx) than the allowed limit. English daily, the Indian Express has reported that the expert panel had estimated that in 2016, the NOx released by Volkswagen cars was around 48.678 tonnes of NOx.

Volkswagen sets up new showroom in Malappuram, Kerala
Volkswagen showroom in Malappuram, KeralaPR Handout

For its estimate, Delhi was taken as the base city; the panel had "estimated cost of health damage due to additional NOx from the Volkswagen group vehicles is approximately Rs 171.34 crore". NOx is a generic term for the various nitrogen oxides produced during combustion. They are believed to aggravate asthmatic conditions, react with the oxygen in the air to produce ozone, which is also an irritant and eventually form nitric acid when dissolved in water. Moreover, when dissolved in atmospheric moisture the result can be acid rain which can damage both trees and entire forest ecosystems.

The expert panel had also highlighted that "longer exposures to elevated concentrations of NO2 may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections". Apart from litigations in India, the German company is also facing criminal and civil penalties in the US and Canada for installing illegal software in diesel engines to bypass the relegations. Volkswagen has agreed to pay $2.8 billion to an environmental trust.