The Delhi government’s decision to curb “increasing pollution due to diesel vehicles” on Monday came after reports over the last two years that the gains in the quality of air achieved from making public transport run on compressed natural gas (CNG) since 2001 were lost because of the growing number of diesel vehicles in the Capital.
On November 5, the Hindustan Times first highlighted the fact that in terms of pollution, the air quality of Delhi during the year had become as foul as it used to be before the induction of CNG.
NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) analysed data published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to find that levels of suspended particulate matter and harmful nitrogen dioxide had touched as high a level as they were prior to 2001, when CNG was introduced in the city.
That is not all. The Environmental Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) — a watchdog body formed by the Supreme Court — recently submitted that to stem the growth in diesel vehicles, there should be steep tax on the fuel so that there is no or very little difference between petrol and diesel.
It proposed a “Health Cess” on the fuel to act as a deterrent for buyers.
Bhure Lal, the chairman of EPCA, said on Monday, “I am happy that some cess has been imposed. But it is not steep enough. If asked, EPCA can do a costing study and come out with a proposal about a proper amount of cess on diesel which is needed.”
Stronger steps needed
Despite the measures taken by the government on Monday, environmentalists say that stronger steps are needed. Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director of CSE, said curbing the increasing number of diesel vehicles would be the next step. “In the last Budget, the definition of small car was changed to allow larger vehicles avail an excise duty cut offered. Steps like these spur the growth in diesel cars.”
The central subsidy on diesel, which makes the fuel cheaper than petrol, is also benefiting affluent car users in cities. “Thanks to this, the government is suffering a huge revenue loss for every diesel car that hits the road,” she said.
Incidentally, the government’s latest decision comes exactly a year after the CSE sent a missive to Finance Minister P Chidambaram detailing these issues. After Monday’s development, the NGO is now preparing a demand for the Finance Ministry, the Transport Ministry and the Petroleum Ministry.
Not to be blamed: industry
The auto industry says that it had asked for cleaner diesel in 2002 but the government did not agree.
“Besides, in terms of pollution, an Euro-II petrol car emits more pollution than its diesel equivalent,” said Dilip Chenoy, director-general of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).
“The world over, barring two countries, diesel is cheaper than petrol. We ask the government to set emissions standards for us and we will follow it. Leave the choice of technology and choice of fuel to the automotive industry,” he said. “If you want me to be follow stricter emission standards then I need cleaner fuel. That’s the government’s job to provide,” he said.