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Need for World Class Vehicle Emission Norms

About a decade back, the Government introduced vehicle emission standards on the basis of Mashelkar Committee on Auto Fuel Policy that laid down the road map for gradual tightening of emission norms up to 2010. The current policy, which was implemented in 2010, envisages BS-IV emission norms for new four wheelers in 23 cities, and BS-III norms, that are less stringent than BS-IV, in the rest of the country. These norms, largely based on Euro-III and Euro-IV, European emission standards, have been customised to Indian conditions and helped in bringing down total emission levels despite an increase in vehicle population almost by three times. Use of CNG in place of diesel in public transport in certain cities like Delhi has also helped in reducing the emission levels.

The reduction has been more spectacular in Particulate Matter (PM) emissions than in NOx (Oxides of Nitrogen) emissions. However, the air quality in many cities, including the smaller ones, is far from satisfactory and does not meet accepted quality standards. According to a recent ICCT study most of the 27 cities studied have violated the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), air quality standards set by US Environment Protection Agency, for Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) while the NOx concentrations are dangerously close to the norms. Apart from bigger cities like Delhi, the smaller cities like Allahabad, Gwalior and Ghaziabad recorded extremely high concentrations.

Increasing air pollution has become a great health hazard and is responsible for increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the urban areas.

Appropriate signals must be given to both the Petroleum and automobile sector and proactive steps taken for providing cleaner air in our growing cities. According to Kirit Parikh Report, 69 per cent of total diesel consumption is in the transport sector where it is main fuel for commercial vehicles and public transport. This is again responsible for growing SOx (Oxides of Sulphur) emission. Even the BS-IV norms applicable to 23 major cities cannot effectively control SOx emissions in these cities because the commercial vehicles are not confined to a particular city and also operate elsewhere, and in these parts the fuel consumptions still conforms to the BS-III standards. The policy of having dual emission standards in the country on account of the refineries' inability to invest in the production of a cleaner fuel is proving costly in terms of the growing health concerns owing to deterioration in the quality of air in many cities.

The sulphur content in diesel, which is the primary fuel for transport in the country, is a great health hazard. BS-IV emission norms envisage sulphur content to a maximum of 50 ppm. On the other hand, BS-III, which is generally applicable to the country, barring 23 cities, contains sulphur up to 350 ppm. The developed countries, a few years back, had introduced ultra-sulphur diesel, which contains sulphur up to 10 ppm. Even other developing countries are gradually in the process of introducing this norm within the next few years. We, too, must switch over to BS-V and BS-VI emission norms which includes supplying ultra-sulphur diesel. This should be done within a definite time frame within the next five years. This will result in tremendous reduction in air pollution in our cities.

For over a year now a new committee is working on the Auto Fuel Vision Policy Roadmap lasting up to the year 2025. In the meantime, the Government is planning to bring about 60 cities, including the existing ones, under BS-IV by 2015. The pace of introducing stricter fuel emission norms has apparently slowed down due to higher investments required in both petroleum and automobile sectors. The current lag in vehicle emission norms, which at present, takes India five years behind Europe, may take them further back, unless the Government takes some decisive steps toward the implementation of the new stricter norms. The Government has to act quickly and prepare a roadmap for a switchover to world class emission norms at least by the year 2025.

The Government's policy of gradually withdrawing the subsidy on diesel may have only a marginal impact on GHG emissions as most of the diesel consumption is by commercial vehicles including buses and three-wheelers, where a switchover to any other form of fuel is not possible. The use of diesel by private cars and SUVs that has seen a substantial increase in recent years may, however, reduce on account of the increasing consumer prices.

It is, therefore, imperative for the Government to introduce stricter fuel emission norms in order to bring a drastic reduction in air pollution. The first step in this direction should be the implementation of BS-IV norms uniformly all over the country in the next two years. At least by 2020, the Government should implement BS-V and BS-VI, modelled largely after Euro V and Euro VI emission norms that include introduction of ultra-sulphur diesel in the entire country. The policy of dual emission norms does not help as vehicles ply all over the country. The Government should bear a part of one - time investment in the petroleum sector to enable the refineries to produce cleaner fuel. This can be accomplished by ploughing back a part of the subsidy saved on diesel.

The Government has also launched National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), which aims at selling 6-7 million electric vehicles in the country by 2020. The initial cost of electric vehicles being higher than the petrol vehicles, a support mechanism of subsidy and incentives will have to be put in place to achieve the mission's target. Electric vehicles are highly suitable for last mile connectivity as shown by the advent of e-rickshaws in Delhi, which are multiplying day by day despite no support from Government.

The introduction of stricter fuel emission norms will also bring down the energy consumption in the country. A recent study done by TERI revealed that energy consumption can decline by 17 per cent by 2032 if stricter fuel efficiency norms of BS-V and BS-VI are introduced.

The current lackadaisical approach of the Government which indicates that tightening vehicle emission norms is not a priority has to change. Appropriate signals must be given to both the Petroleum and automobile sector and proactive steps taken for providing cleaner air in our growing cities.

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