Pollution populism PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 December 2015 00:52
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Publish IIT study. Don’t favour 2Ws, why ban diesel cars?


It is unfortunate that, at a time when the country’s capital is trying to battle pollution, the Delhi state government doesn’t seem to have concrete data on what exactly is causing the pollution. That is why, the same IIT Kanpur study that the Delhi government is relying on for its odd-even measures is also being cited by automobile firms to argue diesel engines are responsible for a very small share of pollutants—with other studies offering different explanations, the IIT-Kanpur study has to be made public so its data can be scrutinised by experts. Former IIT-Delhi professor Dinesh Mohan who points out that just around half the vehicles registered in Delhi are used—the one-time registration means, even if phased out, they continue to be on the records—to show their contribution to pollution is lower than generally believed, puts the vehicular pollution at 20% of the total in the city. What is even odder is that while most experts, including the National Green Tribunal, are sceptical of the odd-even scheme which allows cars with odd/even last digit-numberplates to ply on alternate days, the government plans to go ahead with it without any great level of preparation. And while individual two-wheelers may pollute less than cars, the fact that their numbers are so large means they are far more polluting as a class of vehicles; so, have they been kept out of the odd-even ban because the less well-heeled are more likely to be the Aam Aadmi Party’s political constituency? And if studies show that a large part of Delhi’s pollution comes from brick-kilns, how is this to be fixed?

With the same caveat of needing to have the data before any action is taken, a similar populism can be seen in the Supreme Court’s decision to, for the next 3 months, ban registration of diesel vehicles of over 2000cc in the capital—ostensibly, the idea is to not hurt the common man, but to ensure the rich don’t pollute the capital more with their large SUVs. While it makes sense to tax the rich—most of India’s personal taxes come from them anyway, not from the so-called common man—this cannot be a solution to the capital’s pollution problem. If it is indeed true that diesel vehicles are responsible for a great deal of pollution and need to be prevented from further multiplying—it has been this newspaper’s stated position that huge government subsidies are what drove even petrol-automakers like Suzuki into the diesel fold—surely the logic has to be extended all the way? After all, diesel engines are available in even sub-1,000cc category cars today, and comprise 70-80% of the capital’s dieselised fleet of personal vehicles. Eventually, of course, bans serve no real solution, the solution lies in tight emission standards—if a car meets the same emission standard, how does it matter whether it is fuelled by diesel or petrol; indeed, since CNG burns at a much higher temperature than petrol, chances are CNG vehicles emit more NOx than petrol engines do. No policy decision should be taken in the absence of data, but that’s exactly what is happening right now.


Front page story

In line with what it had indicated a day earlier, the Supreme Court on Wednesday banned the registration of diesel vehicles of more than 2,000 cc in Delhi and the national capital region till March 31 in its effort to check air pollution. The apex court also hiked the green cess, or the environment compensation charge, by 100% on trucks entering Delhi, while banning ones that are more than 10 years old. Among the other measures ordered by the SC are that only those commercial vehicles will be allowed to enter Delhi after paying the green cess that have the city as the end destination; those that are not Delhi-bound will not be allowed to cross through the city.

Further, only taxis running on CNG, including that of cab aggregators like Ola and Uber, will be allowed to ply in Delhi and the NCR, for which they have been given time till March 31. The ECC on commercial vehicles has been doubled to Rs 1,400 for light commercial vehicles and Rs 2,600 for larger trucks.

While ruling on these lines, the SC maintained that the order will not impact the common man since diesel vehicles of more than 2,000 cc engine are owned by the affluent section of the society.

The ruling hits hard the country’s largest utility manufacturer, Mahindra and Mahindra, which has several such products in its portfolio like the Bolero, Scorpio, Xylo and XUV500. Others to be hit will be General Motors’ Tavera, Toyota Kirloskar’s Innova and Fortuner, Tata Motors’ Safari and Jaguar-Land Rover brands, and Hyundai’s Santa Fe. Some cars will also get affected like Skoda’s Superb and Toyota’s Camry, along with most models of luxury cars like Mercedes, Audi and BMW.

The hardest hit will be M&M, which in a statement said that the affected products represent around 2% of its total monthly sales in the city. “The company would hope that at the end of the interim period of March 31, 2016, the judiciary and the regulators would look at the impact of these measures and take a holistic view on improving the air quality of Delhi, taking into account the overall impact of each action… The company is in the process of evaluating various options to work within the framework provided by the honourable Supreme Court,” M&M said in a statement.

The company’s chairman, Anand Mahindra, tweeted, “So, even if we believe the decision on diesel vehicles isn’t optimal, we’ll honour it and develop vehicles that comply with their stipulations.”

Unlike several of its competitors, M&M does not have petrol technology.


Even the Tata Motors-owned JLR’s entire diesel model range is powered by engines above 2,000 cc. Commenting on the matter, a Tata Motors spokesperson said, “While we will see some impact on our sales in the three-month period specified in the order, our continued foray into petrol segment, as shown by recent launches, will stand us in good business stead over a period of time.”

Auto industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) was also critical of the order stating that the move will not lead to any perceptible improvement in the city’s air quality.

“The pollution issue in Delhi needs to be looked at holistically if the objective of improving the air quality is to be achieved. In light of this, the Supreme Court order banning private diesel passenger vehicles and SUVs of 2,000 cc engine capacity and above, is most unfortunate,” SIAM said in a statement.

However, the country’s largest car manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki, will be totally unaffected by the interim ban since it does not make diesel vehicles in the 2,000 cc and above category. In fact, if there is a move towards CNG variants, Maruti will be a beneficiary. The other benefit that comes to Maruti and other players who deal only in smaller diesel vehicle is that the National Green Tribunal’s recent order banning sale of diesel cars till January 6 stands modified with the SC’s order. As such, dealers of such vehicles can sell their year-end stock.

Of the total passenger vehicle sales in the country at around 2.6 million, Delhi’s share is 7%, with about 30% comprising diesel-run vehicles. Of this, the share of diesel-run vehicles with an engine capacity of 2,000 cc and above is in low single digits.



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