The high levels of air pollution in India pose a serious health risk. Picture: REUTERS
The high levels of air pollution in India pose a serious health risk. Picture: REUTERS

New Delhi — India's environmental court threatened Volkswagen (VW) executives with arrest on Thursday, and gave the German vehicle maker a day to pay $14m for violating pollution norms by fudging emission tests.

The "Dieselgate" scandal, which saw VW cheat emissions tests on millions of diesel vehicles, has already cost the firm over $30bn in fines, recalls and compensation worldwide.

India's National Green Tribunal ruled in November that VW must pay a fine of 1.7-billion rupees ($24m) to the pollution control board as “health damage”.

On Thursday, the court criticised VW for disregarding its fine order and warned that it would order the arrest of VW directors if the company failed to pay one-billion rupees before 5pm (11.30am GMT) on Friday.

"Why have you not complied with our order when there is no stay? We will not give you any further time," the green tribunal said.

The tribunal's order followed a plea by a New Delhi school teacher who sought a ban on more than 300,000 VW diesel vehicles on Indian roads for violating pollution norms.

The court formed an expert panel that found that the German cars released approximately 48.678 tonnes of nitrogen oxide in 2016 in the already severely polluted Indian capital.

It recommended a 1.7-billion-rupee fine as nitrogen oxide is a smog-forming pollutant linked to heart and lung disease.

New Delhi is one the most polluted capitals in the world, with pollution levels often breaching safe norms. Much of its dirty air is blamed on the millions of vehicles crowding its roads.

In a statement, VW denied the allegations and said it had challenged the fine order before the supreme court, but that it would pay the fine on time.

"The VW Group India will comply with the order of honourable National Green Tribunal and deposit the money, as directed," said a spokesperson for VW Group India.

The vehicle giant had admitted in 2015 to using a “defeat device” in 11-million diesel engine cars sold in the US, Europe and other global markets, to help them appear less polluting in emissions tests.

It recalled 323,700 vehicles in India in December 2015 to fix the emissions software after India's vehicle regulator found emission levels in some models were up to 2.6 times more than the prescribed limits.