Last week, the Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk got on to social media to rant about an issue he finds infuriating – traffic. In a series of tweets, the serial tech entrepreneur announced that he is going start a new venture to deal with traffic issues using tunneling technology, and he wants to name the company ‘The Boring Company’.
Mr Musk may or may not get down to starting the company, but vehicular traffic is becoming a critical problem across the world. In developing countries such as India, the issue becomes more severe because along with new cars there are also old ones vying for space on the roads. The good news is that the Centre is coming out with a plan to get rid of old vehicles, a major source of pollution in the country. It is planning to make it mandatory for automakers and their agents to buy old and unroadworthy vehicles and recycle them.
India doesn’t have a recycling policy for end-of-life cars, leaving an unorganised sector such as private scrapyards in New Delhi to profit from selling parts and metal from dismantled vehicles. The new rule, which is likely to kick in after the environment ministry notifies next year, will be on the lines of the recycling policy for electronic goods that fixes responsibility on the manufacturer.
Automakers will get enough time — between one and three years — follow the new norms and set up dismantling and recycling centres across India. In most countries around the world, the association of automakers jointly sets up these units. China has around 800 centres across its big cities. India had 8.7 million end-of-life vehicles in 2015, and the number is expected to rise to 21.8 million by 2025, according to a Central Pollution Control Board estimate. Around 80% of them would be two-wheelers.
While the buyback policy is a commendable move, the government must ensure that the programme does not go the e-waste recycling way. India is estimated to generate more than four lakh tonnes of e-waste annually. Despite the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, in place, things have not worked out primarily for two reasons: Consumers are reluctant to go to product manufacturers for disposal of electronic products, and second, the companies have not come up with a credible incentive-linked programme to push recycling. The usual reason that is given out is that they cannot match the informal sector because they are cost-effective because they operate outside the legal ambit. The car buyback policy must try to tackle these issues. Otherwise, the plan will fall flat.