South Delhi Worst hit, Smog solutions in government files
Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand are masters at side-stepping the issue of growing air pollution.
Pinky Anand told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday that diesel vehicles were not a `major contributor to pollution and vehicular emission’. Gadkari went a step further and claimed the NCR needed a fresh study to understand how much of the pollution was being caused by vehicles, construction debris and the burning of agricultural waste.
These observations are in sharp contrast to the findings of a study prepared by the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) which delved deep into the problem and prepared a report which was submitted to the Supreme Court.
The report emphasized the significant role of vehicles and vehicle emissions to rising air pollution in Delhi, stating that rapid motorization based on poor quality fuel and vehicle technology will make the air pollution trend irreversible.
The report highlighted how between 2002 to 2012, vehicular traffic has gone up by 97%, contributing enormously to the pollution load and direct exposure to toxic fumes. It reclassified diesel emissions as class I carcinogen for its strong link with lung cancer –putting it in the same class as tobacco smoking.
The gap between diesel fuel and petrol prices, which has been skewed towards making diesel relatively cheaper, has resulted in the increased dieselisation of cars. From just 4% of new car sales in 2000, diesel cars are now half of new car sales. The EPA report highlighted merely the WHO warning against diesel fumes as being carcinogenic and responsible for lung cancer deaths.
The EPCA also emphasized that Delhi had guzzled 11.32 lakh tons of diesel in 2013-14 alone, 39.6 percent more than the 8.11 lakh tons it consumed just four years ago. Policy experts and scientists, including the SC, appointed EPCA. have repeatedly pointed out that the spike in the use of diesel from 2007-08 actually mitigated the gains made in Delhi’s air quality when it converted public transport to CNG.
In the late 1990s, diesel-fuelled vehicles constituted only four per cent of the total car sales in Delhi, the EPCA recorded in a 2007 report, adding that the number had reached 24 per cent in 2006. Today, diesel cars account for almost half of total sales in Delhi and NCR.
The reason for this was the sharply diminishing gap between the cost of CNG and diesel. In June 2010, the cost of a liter of diesel was Rs 40.10, and CNG Rs 27.50 per kg.
The EPCA told the SC in a report last year, “In 2002-03, CNG was cheaper than diesel by about 46.71 per cent. Between 2004 and 2009 the difference widened further to more than 50 percent as diesel prices increased… In December 2013, the price differential (had) plummeted to 7.35 percent,” the report said. “High CNG costs hurt public transport and undermine (the) clean fuel program,” it added.
Responding to criticism on diesel, the Supreme Court, on 16 December 2015, banned the registration of luxury automobiles and sport utility vehicles with an engine capacity in excess of 2000cc in NCR, responding to concerns over increasing air pollution in the national capital, blamed on emissions by diesel vehicles.
But then in a questionable U-turn, the Supreme Court on Friday lifted this eight-month-old ban on the registration of large vehicles fuelled by diesel in the NCR, making it conditional on manufacturers paying a levy for polluting the city’s air.Automobile makers would have to pay a levy equal to 1% of the ex-showroom price of diesel vehicles with an engine capacity above 2000cc, ruled a three-judge bench of the apex court.
`It is not a deterrent. This is very cosmetic,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment, commenting on the green tax.
She insisted that` Additional tax has to be recovered from the diesel car user. If you want to recover the extra tax, you will have to increase the price (of diesel) by 20% to 30%. This matter is in the court and a decision on this will be taken on a later date,” said Roychowdhury.
Sunita Narain, who heads the CSE, said, ` the city has to prohibit diesel. Either make it very expensive or just do not allow its use in private cars. There is no other way to clean the air. I know the automobile industry will fight this and argue that its diesel is clean and that the industry’s growth is necessary for India’s economic future. But remember that this fight is a fight of life and death.’
For Gadkari to feign ignorance on such a crucial issue affecting the lives of millions of people is, therefore, a little strange especially since the problem of pollution is now pan India. Because while Delhi follows Bharat Stage 4 standards for vehicles, the rest of India is continuing with the more polluting Bharat Stage III standards in place.
Equalivent to Euro IV standards, Bharat IV particulate standards are 50% cleaner than Bharat Stage III standards for cars and 81% cleaner for trucks and diesel buses. Though Delhi follows Bharat IV standards, significant cross through traffic from other localities means that the city continues to be greatly affected by high polluting vehicles.
While the NGT has cracked the whip on old diesel vehicles, it also needs to stop the sale of large diesel vehicles in the NCR.