Delhi's BS-VI plan unlikely to work

Delhi's BS-VI plan unlikely to work

On the face of it, the decision by the petroleum ministry to advance the introduction of BS-VI grade petrol and diesel in Delhi by two years to April 2018, and in the national capital region (NCR) by April 2019, appears to be a logical step in fighting air pollution. Delhi's air quality visibly deteriorated during the last two weeks, and is much worse than what it was at this time last year. As such, desperate remedies were called for, and they didn't seem forthcoming from the Delhi government, which has given up on the Odd-Even scheme that it introduced with great fanfare last year, or from any of the other authorities that control the national capital. The resolve to take the automobile industry from the current BS-IV grade fuel directly to BS-VI, bypassing the BS-V grade altogether, and ahead of an earlier deadline, may be commendable, but its implementation will confront both oil companies and automobile manufacturers with tough challenges.

Unusually, the initiative to improve air quality came not from the environment ministry, the guardian of all matters environmental, but from the petroleum ministry. Indeed, in repeated affidavits to the Supreme Court, the environment ministry has contested the Comprehensive Action Plan on clean air submitted by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that had asked industry to manufacture and sell BS-VI models from April 1, 2020, and instead asserted that the technical challenges of leapfrogging to BS-VI are complex. Amazingly, the scheme contemplates Delhi, and later NCR, as a 'BS-VI island' in a country that will still be following BS-IV norms for the most part.

The petroleum ministry has promised to make BS-VI grade fuel available in Delhi from April next year and in all of NCR by April 2019. Even if the oil companies manage to meet these deadlines and automobile-makers provide BS-VI engine vehicles in time, coordination and monitoring of the scheme by the Centre and state governments will not be easy. Currently, over 10 million vehicles are registered in Delhi. In addition, some 5.7 lakh cars enter the city every day from other states, around 11% of them the more polluting diesel SUVs. There is another catch, too. What happens when a BS-VI vehicle has to tank up outside Delhi and NCR limits? A BS-VI engine cannot function on the inferior BS-IV fuel, and BS-VI fuel will not be available at fuel stations in the rest of the country even by the turn of the decade. Inarguably, air pollution must be curbed. But this requires wider consultations between the Centre, the states and other stakeholders. Desperate measures don't always work.

 

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