The fight against toxic diesel fumes emitted by vehicles, which are as much of a cancer threat as tobacco smoke or asbestos, has gained ground. While the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday directed the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Delhi to deregister all diesel vehicles which were over ten years old, the Centre is also expected to come up with a notification this month making it mandatory for all vehicle manufactuers and diesel suppliers to comply with Euro 6 norms.
NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar directed the Delhi RTO to deregister all diesel vehicles that were over ten years old after the Delhi Traffic Police submitted that merely impounding such vehicles was not having the desired impact. Impounded vehicles were being released by magistrates after imposing a fine under the Motor Vehicle Act.
The green tribunal also directed the Ministry of Heavy Industries to file an affidavit on the status of electric and hybrid vehicles in the country and how the government intended to support those eager to dispose of their old vehicles. It also urged the ministry to seek a response on this from all states within a week.
Part of larger efforts
Responding to the directions, Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Centre for Science and Environment who has been at the forefront of the clean air campaign, said, “This news has to be looked at within the larger efforts to control diesel emissions in the city. This city has already taken a lot of steps to control diesel emissions from other segments. So today all your buses are on CNG and all your taxis are moving to CNG.”
Even when it came to commercial vehicles, she said, “There is a huge control over trucks today; the Supreme Court has already debarred the entry of trucks just bypassing Delhi and also ordered imposition of the environment compensation charge on all trucks that enter Delhi. As a result, the number of trucks in the city has come down quite substantially. Even the small commercial vehicles in Delhi are supposed to be on CNG.”
In this scenario, she said, when all all other vehicle segments had been acted upon, it was only cars that had remained untouched. But now, she said, “on cars there are two levels of discussions happening. One is at the level of the Supreme Court, which is looking at new cars, and the other at the level of the National Green Tribunal, which is looking at phasing out old diesel vehicles.”
The Supreme Court, Roychowdhury said, has put a temporary ban on diesel cars of 2000 cc engine and above till the time they work out the environmental compensation charge on new diesel cars. “Now the upshot of all these developments is that till the time we have clean diesel as defined as what you get at the Euro 6 level –when the diesel fume will have 10 ppm (parts per million) of sulphur and vehicles will possess advanced emission control systems like particulate trap and so forth – it is very important to control dieselisation.”
Roychowdhury said the impact of using low quality diesel and not having vehicles fitted with advanced emission control systems on the health of the residents is enormous. “There are very serious concerns around toxicity of diesel emissions, which have been classified by the World Health Organisation as a class 1 carcinogen. These are in the same class as tobacco smoking since it has very strong link with lung cancer. So diesel emissions, asbestos and tobacco all fall in this category. Petrol and CNG are not in that class.”
The only way out, she said was cleaner fuel and better vehicles. While some foreign automobile companies argue that they conform to higher Euro emission standards and should not be targeted, the environmentalist said this was far from true. “How can they make that claim. They are still adhering to Euro 4 emission standards in India. And that does not require any advanced emission control system. So here they are not producing the car that they produce in Europe. They are producing a car which only meets India’s standards, which is Euro 4, and which is nearly 12 years behind Europe.”
Also, she said, if an imported Euro 6 car was brought to India but was run on the existing Euro 3 or Euro 4 standard diesel supplied here, its advanced emission control system would be damaged due to the high sulphur content in the fuel, ranging from 50 to 300 ppm of sulphur.
“Europe, United States, Japan and South Korea all have Euro 6 norms in place,” she said, adding that India too is expected to join them this month.
In February, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways came up with a draft notification to introduce Euro 6 emission standards in 2020, which applies to both the installation of particulate traps in vehicles and the sale of 10 ppm diesel.
At the time of the announcement, union minister Nitin Gadkari had stated that Euro 6 compliant fuel may be introduced in metros much ahead of the April 1, 2020 deadline. This is expected to reduce air pollution in several cities, including Delhi.
However, as Roychowdhury pointed out, while nearly five months have passed, the final notification has not yet come. “The decision to advance Euro 6 fuel roll out was a positive move. But the final notification has still not come. What we are worried about is that why are they not issuing the final notification. And they should do it very quickly because the more time you lose, the less time the industry gets. The draft came in February and all the suggestions have gone in. So why the delay?’’
For someone who has seen the shift to cleaner technologies and the accompanying reluctance of the government and industries to conform, Roychowdhury is apprehensive about the delay. “I know that the automotive industry is trying to put a huge amount of pressure as they still want to delay that since this pertains to all diesel vehicles.”
But with courts keeping a close watch on the developments, there is hope that better sense will prevail.