Smoking is injurious to health and the perils of passive smoking were highlighted in various fora. This led to a concerted effort by the government in banning smoking in public places and various arms of society collaborated, including smokers, in enforcing this.
Similarly, the government, society, environmental pundits, the consumer, the oil and gas industry and the automobile industry need to work together in achieving better air quality. This is of paramount importance in improving the national health index. Making the auto industry and the government the scapegoat for the current pollution levels in our cities is not the answer to improving air quality. Unfortunately, this has happened and this situation must now be understood and rectified.
The move towards making cleaner fuel effectively started in 2000 in India with the introduction of BS Stage I fuel as the world focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – essentially carbon dioxide. India started this campaign well but at some point in time successive governments focused more on providing subsidies, particularly to diesel which today is presented as a dangerous fuel that spews particulate matter ( PM )– particles of differing dimensions that if ingested into the lungs seriously affects the health of an individual. While India started well in its approach to handling the emissions caused by vehicles with the subsequent introduction of BS II fuel in 2002, and BS III fuel in 2005, India developed flat feet when it came to the introduction of BS IV fuel. It was introduced in 2010 in 13 cities initially and then it was introduced in 50 additional cities across India, and is now promised by April 1 2017 across India. Too little too late.
Time and tide wait for no man Parts of the world have advanced to Euro V (BS V) and Euro VI (BSVI) fuel, while India lagged behind — the nitrous oxide and PM emissions with the usage of such fuels had reduced considerably. India could have announced a phased introduction of these fuels such that by now we would have had the cleanest fuels in our cities and not the dirtiest air in our cities – Delhi and Mumbai lead the world in being classified as ‘Extreme pollution’ with a plume index of 228 and 209 as per February 19 readings. Bengaluru is at an index of 112 and classified as ‘Very high pollution’. Other cities such as Tokyo and London show Plume indices of 50 and 33 respectively, despite having high densities of vehicular traffic. So, should automobiles really be blamed for the high incidence of pollution in our cities?
Doling out fuel subsidy has actually translated into the delay in introduction of cleaner fuels — successive governments have left the public sector oil industry cash- strapped preventing the introduction of cleaner fuel and endangering the health index of the country. The question we need to ask now is this: had the government introduced the cleaner fuels by now would this have reduced pollution in our cities?
Pollution in our cities is caused by a variety of reasons — dust, construction activity, the burning of garbage and the usage of old vehicles on our roads that constitute the main reasons why pollution remains high in Indian cities. Infrastructure plays a vital role too.
Narrow and congested roads, poor maintenance of roads, vehicle driving patterns (generally indisciplined), and disrespect to the road laws effectively reducing speeds of travel are other reasons why pollution is further heightened.
So in all of the above what is the role of the automobile industry as a key stakeholder particularly when it comes to reducing pollution? What the auto industry has been seeking from the government authorities is a clear time bound road map for the introduction of cleaner fuels such as BS IV, BS V and BS VI fuels. The automobile industry needs to be in lockstep with the oil industry’s path to cleaner fuels introduction – time is of the essence in developing engines that can be suitable not only to the fuel but also to the Indian driving cycle.
Typically, to meet BS V norms as part of the vehicle development process a ‘diesel particulate filter’ is required and for meeting the BS VI norms fuel a fitment called the ‘Nox storage catalyst’ or a ‘selective catalytic reducer’ in addition to the diesel particulate filter is required.
The challenge before the automobile industry is that if such engine and complete vehicle development takes place ahead of the availability of BS V and BS VI fuels then such effort would be wasted since certain critical components of the vehicle could get damaged if inferior fuel were used. If the automobile industry were to delay engine development till after the introduction of such fuel then the BS V or BS VI fuel would behave like a BS IV or worse fuel based on the vehicle in use with very marginal improvement in emission. From a cost perspective too, the auto maker faces the challenge of redesigning the car to accommodate the filters and catalysts described above. It needs to be asked how many consumers would be willing to pay higher automobile prices and higher fuel prices?
It is pertinent to point out that today there are over a crore vehicles dotting Indian roads that are capable of using only BS I, II or III fuel and are responsible for vehicular pollution. The current generation of BS IV vehicles which use the latest technology and achieve mandated levels of fuel burn quality are compliant with emission norms.
Equally it is important to point out that the engine capacity of a vehicle has no correlation with emission levels – strangely a ban order on diesel vehicles above 2000 cc has been imposed based on specious arguments that only bigger vehicles pollute! Is it anyone’s argument that diesel in a 2100 cc vehicle pollutes but that in a 1900 cc diesel vehicle does not?
CO2 problem neatly handled
The problem of carbon dioxide emissions as a major pollutant has been neatly handled by the government. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has mandated the corporate average fuel economy norms or CAFÉ to follow in two stages. There was due consultation with industry and a time line has been set. What CAFÉ norms achieve is for each automaker to limit the extent of carbon dioxide that can result from vehicular usage be it gasoline, diesel or CNG vehicles.
Industry is also doing its fair share to limit emissions with the gradual introduction of ‘strong hybrid’, ‘electric’ and ‘mild’ hybrid vehicles.
A slew of global auto players with state- of-the-art products are waiting to hear from the government on a long-term road map of at least 10 years and how strongly they would incentivise consumers to switch to alternate fuel technologies.
In summary, the auto industry is fully aware of its responsibilities particularly with regard to emission levels and the effect on pollution levels. The government of today has taken decisive steps to introduce BS VI fuel by 2020, and is willing to spend the money to upgrade our refineries. Will our refineries be able to meet this deadline? The track record so far is not encouraging, but the past is no guarantee for future performance.
(The author is the Vice Chairman and Whole-time Director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor)