Data-based policy formation

Scientifically-backed policies in the auto sector will ensure effective implementation of norms necessary to cope with the persistent problem of pollution

Data-based policy formation

It is nice to see that over the last few weeks there have been policy announcements by the Central government as well as the Delhi government to address pollution issues in the Capital. While the Center has notified the colour-coded sticker policy for cars, the Delhi government has just released a draft electric vehicle policy targeting the vehicle pollution. These are welcome steps for a city struggling to cope with pollution. However, for effective realisation of objectives, it is essential that these policies are based on scientific facts and data. Otherwise, the effects will not only be sub-optimal but also hinder economic growth by adversely affecting mobility.

Let us look at the latest government-commissioned pollution source study for Delhi/NCR by TERI & ARAI, which is based on extensive data collection and rigorous modelling. This extremely detailed study reveals that the annual average of PM 2.5 emissions from transport sector for Delhi is around 23 per cent with trucks, being largest contributors at 6.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively, while cars/SUVs account for 2.7 per cent. Most importantly, the older vehicles (pre-2010) are responsible for 11.05 per cent of the total PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi. This is almost 50 per cent of the overall transport sector emissions and nearly nine to 15 times higher for all new cars and new diesel cars respectively. The obvious inference is that trucks, two-wheelers and all older vehicles need to be targeted for maximum impact. Further, from April 2019, the BS VI emission norms will be rolled out pan India. This will ensure pollution from new vehicles becoming negligible. For instance, the pollution from new BS VI cars will be 90 per cent lower as compared to BS III cars and emissions will be same for all cars irrespective of their size or the fuel used (diesel, petrol, CNG). This has been achieved by Indian auto and oil industry with an investment of nearly Rs 110000 crore within a very compressed time frame. This is quite commendable and government of the day should take full advantage of it through a forward-looking policy.

The Draft Delhi EV policy appropriately espouses a logical approach of penalising the 'inefficient and polluting vehicles' to support the faster adoption of electric vehicles, particularly in the two and three wheelers segment along with e-buses. It is also good to see a renewed focus on public transportation, last mile connectivity, shared mobility and levy of a congestion fee. While the intent is correct, the content is sub-optimal. For example, from pollution data, it is apparent that the proposal to adopt FEEBATE approach of increasing road tax on new petrol/diesel vehicles to fund subsidies on electric vehicles goes against the principle of 'the polluter must pay'. Besides, the government spurred by the courts has already made taxation on new vehicles, particularly new cars, extremely high and has implemented measures such as charging 25 per cent extra road tax on new diesel cars, imposition of 1 per cent Environment Compensation Cess on large diesel cars along with curtailing the registration period of diesel cars to 10 years as against normal 15 years for NCR. Hence, this policy must aim to penalise the older, inefficient and dirtier vehicles rather than new cars. This will have the additional benefit of leveraging the huge investments made for a shift to BS VI by spurring replacement of older vehicles with newer ones with cleaner technologies. This is not difficult to implement and can be done by periodically levying a graded environment charge for 'on-road' vehicles linked to their emission levels at the time of their mandatory PUC checkup. This will also take care of the diverse type, size and age of vehicles. An additional advantage of this approach is that it will force the authorities to effectively enforce the PUC system by using technology innovatively. Vehicles beyond a certain emission level should not be allowed to ply on Delhi roads. Further, other technologies that provide significant pollution reduction like hydrogen vehicles, plug-in Hybrid or strong Hybrid vehicles should also be suitably recognised as these belong to the broad family of non-polluting vehicles.

Another example is the colour-coded sticker notification introduced for cars by the Central government which is primarily intended to identify polluting cars so that these can be taken off the roads on high pollution days. Hence, objectively, it is logical that colour-coded stickers should be based on the level of emission of the car but surprisingly these are linked to the fuel used. Hence the inference is that diesel cars are more polluting than petrol/ CNG cars. While this may be a common perception, but it is contrary to facts. Delhi pollution study suggests that the contribution of all cars and BS IV diesel cars to pollution (PM 2.5) is only 2.7 per cent and 0.73 per cent respectively. In fact, as per regulations, the emission from BS IV diesel cars is 50 per cent of BS III diesel cars and the BS VI diesel cars will be 90 per cent less polluting. Moreover, under BS VI regime, pollution from petrol, CNG and diesel cars will be the same. Hence, here also data and facts suggest that if the intended purpose is to be achieved, the colour-coded stickers for cars need to be based on the range of emission level rather than fuel type.

These few examples illustrate the importance of basing policy interventions on scientific facts and data. Unless this is done, policy measures are likely to result in sub-optimal or even unintended negative outcomes. Because of policy formulation being a continual process, I am sure the existing disconnect in these two important policies will get addressed.

(Dr Surajit Mitra is former Secretary to Government of India & Vice-Chancellor of IIFT. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Surajit Mitra

Surajit Mitra

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