Banning old vehicles: 15 years and polluting

Banning old vehicles: 15 years and polluting

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In dire straits after a dramatic slide in vehicular sales, the automobile industry has pinned its hope on an old, yet hardly enforced rule: A ban on 15-year-old vehicles. Fearing an outcry, the State has so far played it safe and targeted only passenger vehicles exceeding six seaters.

Can stricter enforcement of the ban be a win-win for both the industry and the city’s environment? Or will a multi-phase policy eventually covering all private personal vehicles and commercial trucks be too hot for the government to handle?

Stretching the city’s limited road infrastructure several times beyond capacity, the vehicular population currently stands at a mindboggling 82.5 lakh. An estimated 22% of these vehicles have crossed the critical age of 15 years.

High emission

Why does this matter? Vehicles contribute a staggering 42% of the pollutants in the Bengaluru air, as the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) informs. Older vehicles spew out almost twice the volume of toxic fumes as compared to new vehicles.

For years, the state government has been articulating the need to phase out all the polluting vehicles. But despite repeated directives by the KSPCB, implementation has largely remained on paper.

“The State has only banned old six-seater passenger vehicles. Lorry and bus owners associations went to court and obtained a relief that they could ply as long as the vehicles are fit,” a KSPCB official elaborates, preferring anonymity.

Beyond green tax

Last year, the Supreme Court’s directive to the Delhi government to seize petrol vehicles over 15 years of age and diesel vehicles more than 10 years of age, had offered a ray of hope for Bengaluru.
But beyond a green tax collection from old vehicles, nothing much has moved on the policy front.

The State Transport Department collects this tax when the owners of vehicles that are over 15 years old show up for registration certificate renewal. On paper, the collected tax had to be used only to curb air pollution. But the revenue is diverted for other projects, as many complainants allege.

Is there a way to track older vehicles? The Department paints a red coloured band on such vehicles to easily identify them. Officials say these are forced to undergo stringent checks for emission. But what about vehicles that do not turn up for registration renewal?

Build quality concerns

Beyond pollution concerns, the build quality of old vehicles deteriorate. This had come to the fore strongly in November last year, when an old private bus plunged into a canal claiming 30 lives in Pandavapura taluk of Mandya district. Among the victims were several children.

As the accident sparked an uproar, the State Transport Authority had written to the government seeking a ban on 21,000 buses identified as older than 15 years. The objective was clear: To ensure commuters’ safety.

The age of the accident-hit bus was nearly three years beyond the 15-year limit. It was clearly not fit for the road. Critics had questioned the Authority for allowing such vehicles to ply. Yet, over half a year after that incident, old buses continue to ply, operating deep into the city.

The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) have a rule to scrap vehicles that are older than 10 years. Another qualifying standard for scrapping is operation in excess of one lakh kilometres.

Road-worthiness

Road-worthiness should be the core logic behind banning old vehicles and not business considerations, contends Dr Ashish Verma, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science. “It is not the number of years but the maintenance that should be the factor,” he explains.

A well-maintained 15-year-old vehicle could be less polluting than a 10-year-old one in poor shape. “It is about pollution and the risk to road safety. I feel the current slowdown in the auto sector could be good for the future of our cities if it is used as a trigger to transition to more sustainable commute modes,” elaborates Verma.

Stringent monitoring

Sathya Sankaran from Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS) does not see the ban as a solution unless monitoring of all vehicles for pollution is made a continuous process. “We need an accountable, transparent monitoring system, operated by neutral parties, of all vehicles, regardless of their age.”

But the truckers have an entirely different perspective on banning older vehicles. “Unlike new vehicles that operate for hundreds of kilometres on a national permit, last-stage vehicles run only 40-50 kms daily, servicing local markets,” explains Channa Reddy, president of the Federation of Karnataka Lorry Owners Association (FKLOA)

Economic viability

Purchasing new vehicles for such short distances will not be economically viable for small truck owners. “They operate on small profit margins, employing drivers and cleaners for low wages. They cannot be expected to buy new vehicles, paying EMI of Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 every month.”

Reddy is convinced that the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) cannot hope to boost vehicle sales by banning older vehicles. “The reality is different, the economics will not work out. Any forcible ban will finish off the small operators,” he notes.

About five lakh trucks big and small are attached to FKLOA. Reddy estimates that at least 10% will be 10 years or older. “If the government wants to strictly enforce a ban, let them compensate the small players. Those interested will come voluntarily.”

So, what about the concerns of pollution and build quality? “The wear and tear are low for vehicles that run only 40-50 kms daily. In any case, national permits are not given for vehicles older than 10 years. Besides, automobile parts can be replaced to extend life. They are not like humans,” explains Reddy.