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BS VI fuels deadline for Delhi advanced to April as air pollution chokes city

The use of BS VI fuels in Delhi will come into effect two years ahead of schedule, officials said, even as air pollution crippled the national capital.

delhi Updated: Nov 16, 2017 09:43 IST
Amrit Raj and Malavika Vyawahare
A study by Centre for Science and Environment says air pollution claims at least 10,000-30,000 lives a year in Delhi.
A study by Centre for Science and Environment says air pollution claims at least 10,000-30,000 lives a year in Delhi.(AP file)

Delhi’s gas stations will only sell the world’s cleanest petrol and diesel from April 1, the government said on Wednesday, advancing the rollout of Bharat Stage (BS)-VI fuels by two years to fight rising pollution in the capital city.

BS-III and BS-IV cars and two-wheelers can run on BS-VI fuels. But any emission gains will only be marginal in a city whose pollution woes are often compared to a “gas chamber”.

The decision also signals a political statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on tackling pollution — especially given that the Delhi government has come up short on solutions to tackle the problem.

Although the government did not say automakers would have to start selling BS-VI cars and motorbikes, the move could bring pressure on the industry to advance the introduction of such vehicles that are now scheduled for an April 2020 rollout in India.

The government also asked oil manufacturing companies to study the feasibility of providing BS-VI fuels to the National Capital Region by April, 2019.

In a statement, the petroleum ministry said the measures would help mitigate the problem of air pollution in and around Delhi.

“The decision to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI is also in line with Hon’ble PM’s commitment at @COP21 to voluntarily cut our carbon emissions…,” petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, referring to India’s commitment to reduce emission of greenhouse gases under the Paris accord signed two years ago.

BS emission standards regulate the output of air toxic particles from motor vehicles, identified as one of the biggest polluters in Delhi, a city of 17 million people that has been enveloped in such hazardous smog this month that schools were briefly ordered shut, coal-fired power switched off and construction work stopped.

BS-VI standards will limit the level of sulphur in fuels. It was 100 ppm (parts per million) under BS-III, halved to 50 ppm under BS-IV and with BS-VI it will be 10 ppm.

A 2016 report by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, showed that a big contributor to Delhi’s air pollution is road dust, which accounts for about 35% of tiny particles known as PM 2.5 in the air, followed by vehicles at 25%. PM2.5 acts as respiratory irritants and long-term exposure can lead to lung cancer.

Environment groups welcomed the government move.

“Even though the full air quality gains will come when vehicles also move to BS-VI emissions standards, the current move should not be underestimated in a choking city like Delhi,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment.

“With substantially cleaner fuel emissions, control system in on-road fleet will improve and give some emissions benefits.”

Fuel norms in India are implemented in a staggered manner, with metro cities enforcing them before the rest of the country. The BS-IV standards were introduced in some parts of the country in 2010 and rolled out nationwide on April 1, 2017.

“A BS-VI engine can only operate on BS-VI fuel. If you allow BS-VI engine to operate on BS-IV fuel then the engine will get damaged. If you allow a BS-IV engine to operate on BS-VI fuel, the benefit of reduced pollution will largely be lost,” said Shekar Viswanathan, vice-chairman, Toyota Kirloskar.

The auto industry’s reaction was cautious.

“We are already working on a stretched deadline to launch BS-VI vehicles by April 2020..,” said Pawan Goenka, managing director, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.

“I don’t foresee any mainline player with multiple models being able to launch complete portfolio of BS-VI compliant vehicles by April 2018.”

(Gireesh Chandra Prasad and Mayank Aggarwal contributed to this story)