Millennium Post

Talking Shop: Sold for a song

Citing a blasé pollution control directive, the authorities are forcing many to get rid of their prized cars that are still in pristine condition

Talking Shop: Sold for a song

"Government exists to protect

us from each other. Where

Government goes beyond

its limits is in deciding to

protect us from ourselves."

— Ronald Reagan

Former United States President Roland Reagan has always been known for his statements and strong observations, and the one above highlights what can happen when those in authority issue bizarre directives that end up affecting the life of millions, needlessly plunging them into personal and financial instability for the most inane of reasons. I speak of the prevalent order in the Delhi-National Capital Region, where lakhs of people have been forced to sell their still pristine cars for next to nothing, all on the basis of a directive that is as insensible as it is heartless. More on this later; for now, let's return to Reagan's US.

Indicatively speaking, the United States is the richest nation in the world. Yet, the last few years have seen the average age of personal cars and SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles, 'trucks' in their lingo) going up dramatically from 9 years to 12.5 years and more, as a grim economic and personal finance reality grips this nation right where it hurts. Another reason is the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which saw people use their cars less while throwing personal financial planning and forecasts into a tizzy. A third is the rising price of new cars, largely catalyzed by the shortage of critical components like Electronic Control Modules (ECMs), which have seen new-car waiting periods skyrocket. All told, these have also seen used-car prices hit a 68-year record in the United States. Thus, a large section of suddenly economically-disenfranchised people are hanging on to their possessions longer, be it a house, car, electronic goods or spouses, since getting a new one is far more dearer today.

What of dear India?

The story back home is tellingly different, especially in Delhi-NCR. A new pollution control directive now mandates that all diesel cars above the age of 10 years and petrol vehicles over 15 years of age be scrapped or shipped off to other more lenient states. And even when they are sent off to other states like unwanted or ill-begotten offspring, these vehicles are forever banned from their place of birth, Delhi-NCR. If seen on Delhi's roads, they will be impounded on the spot and hefty fines imposed on the new owner. Too much pollution.

It would be interesting to take a moment and see what all of India is 'polluted'. According to IQAir's World Air Quality Report last year, Delhi's air pollution ranks at #4 globally, with the world's most polluted city being Rajasthan's Bhiwadi, followed by Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad. Ten of the top 15 most polluted cities are in India, while Indian cities dominate the list of the world's 100 most polluted places with a score of 63. An 'Air Quality Life Index' developed by the University of Chicago says residents in Delhi and Lucknow could add a decade to their life if air quality levels meet standards set by the World Health Organization.

Admittedly, the situation is grave, as are the causes behind this alarming level of pollution. A complex mix of factors such as fireworks, cooking, waste burning, industries, power plants and construction activities are responsible. Very high on the list is stubble burning in Northern Indian states in winters, which continues despite the imposition of some serious penalties. Yes, urban emissions from vehicles are also on the list.

Back to the moot point

Having examined the conundrum, let's get to the moot point; that every vehicle pollutes. Hell, anything that has an engine does, while many without one do too. Why do I say that? Only to remind you that the next time you open your refrigerator to get a bottle of water or put on your air-conditioner, remember that the cooling industry is incredibly polluting, accounting for 10 per cent of global CO2 emissions. That is three times the amount produced by aviation and shipping combined.

What else pollutes? Well, the human breath does, for we do exhale almost 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, but thankfully this is the same amount "inhaled" by plants and vegetation. What else? Well, household consumer products, including detergents, floor care products, furniture and household fabrics, disinfectants, air-fresheners, products for laundering, glues, paints, paint strippers and personal care products pollute the air. What's worse is that they pollute the air inside our homes, even when we sleep and breathe it in.

Thankfully, India is not too gas-based when it comes to running household appliances. Why? Because if we speak of the US, then using gas-powered culprits like the furnace, water heaters, dryers and stoves is a deadly pastime. Burning gas in buildings is producing five times more smog than power plants in California and twice as much as all of its cars.

So what do we do next? After cars, we should now ban refrigerators, ACs, detergents, room-fresheners, glues, paints, gas stoves and the human breath. Bah! Let's get serious.

Crystal-ball view

First, let's take a deep breath, think straight and if we don't still get it, we can look into the crystal-ball for answers. In today's highly-computerized transport systems, including India, every vehicle is policed and monitored; the smallest divergences from the law are noted. Why, we even get notifications well before our 'pollution under control' (PUC) certificates run out. All cars sold in India are extremely modern and manufactured with a view to have them run for over 300,000 km if maintained well.

PUC certificates have been a must for over a decade and not having one invites penalties of over Rs 10,000 a pop now. I shall take the issue by the scruff of its now-wobbly neck and ask why we are not enforcing an existing law or making it more stringent to ensure absolute compliance? Why are we taking the easy way out and the plucking low-hanging fruit by banning vehicles, ones that the authorities themselves charged serious monies for at the time of registration? What happened to the concept of a well-meaning citizen's rights and privileges? These are pertinent questions, especially when most personal diesel vehicles run less than 50,000 km in 10 years in Delhi-NCR and nearly all have a PUC certificate issued by the transport authorities. What of goods carriers and transporters, who clock up far more than that in a year? Why are they allowed to ply, spouting fumes and deadly gases?

We began with Ronald Reagan and here we go again. The former US President once said: "Approximately 80 per cent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources."

PS: Lest you feel I have vested interests here, let me clarify that I have already capitulated as a law-abiding citizen and sold my two spanking diesel cars (bought for millions of rupees each and dumped for a few lakh for the both of them). I now have petrol vehicles which shall last a lifetime. That's my life-story, but what of the millions of Indians entering their prime now, with their dreams, aspirations and fantasies still intact? That's food for thought.

The writer is a veteran journalist and communications specialist. He can be reached on Views expressed are personal

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