Environment vs growth
In its plea before the National Green Tribunal on Monday, the Centre asked the court not to extend the Supreme Court mandated ban on registration of vehicles beyond 2000 cc to other cities. It told the National Green Tribunal that such a move would have an adverse effect on the momentum of growth of the automobile industry. In its plea, the Centre has sought for a balance between environmental concerns and development. It is a delicate balance to achieve.
Should India prioritise economic growth, which seeks to pick vast segments of the populace up from the throes of poverty, over protecting the environment? In this case, however, the balance may tip in favour of the environment because the decision to ban diesel vehicles above 2,000cc engine capacity will mainly affect luxury carmakers. Fortunately for owners of diesel cars and the automobile sector, the NGT on Tuesday sought data related to various aspects of pollution from all states before it extends the ban in cities other than New Delhi.
States will be required to disclose the vehicle population in two of its most polluted cities, including a break-up of heavy vehicles and light vehicles, diesel vehicles and petrol vehicles, and two, three and four wheelers. Studies have shown that diesel-operated vehicles contribute a significant share to air pollution. Most of these vehicles do not adhere to the vehicular emission standards, despite the government’s contention.
The Ministry said all new four-wheeled vehicles currently manufactured and sold in cities conform to BS-IV norms specified by the government, except heavy vehicles having national permit which are on BS- III norms and as such their sales and registration cannot be justifiably banned. In the case of heavy vehicles, it has been found that a majority run on a mixture of kerosene and diesel to save money. Studies have suggested that the amount of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the national capital rises late at night with the corresponding flow of diesel-run trucks.
The effects of RSPM linger on even in the early hours, resulting in serious health problems. Emissions from vehicles, especially those that run on diesel, have proven to be one of the major contributors to rising air pollution levels. The court order seems to have understood that putting a premium on using roads is the only way to solve the problem of vehicular pollution. But one is not sure whether the state has the institutional capacity to implement its proposal.
The lack of adequate public transport to handle extra demand and an understaffed traffic police force to check violations, among other implementation issues, are serious concerns across all Indian cities. On the other side, however, the automobile industry is the largest constituent of the manufacturing sector in the country’s economy. Reports indicate that it contributes to more than 47 percent of the manufacturing GDP of the country. Besides, it is the fifth largest sector receiving Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).