Friday needs a Sunday
To kill off a car in 10 or 15 years is a joke, especially in a country like India. And far more radically so in the times that we are going through now… But that seems to be a fate now predetermined, with the authorities firmly deciding that this is the favored course of action; our passion, frustration and helplessness be damned
The lockdowns and slowdowns and gnawing safety concerns around stepping out of home have had a harrowing effect on me, turning me into the nation's most prolific couch potato. Thus it was that at around 5 am last mid-week, I watched a re-run of 'The Grand Tour' on Amazon Prime. I saw Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May at their very best, taunting BBC's revered and best-grossing 'Top Gear' program (which, by the way, they hosted and took it to where it was for well over a decade-and-a-half).
In this episode of 'The Grand Tour', this loveable and most successful troika in the history of global automobile journalism posted vivid pictures of people in the United Kingdom and the United States posing with poignant visuals of their fathers' cars from three to four decades back. The photographs were all from when these people were toddlers, petulantly perched precariously on the sloping bonnets and flaring boots of these classic beauties, dressed in cute little knickers and shorts, sporting bibs and suckles. These were all cute little fellas posing when infants on pristinely maintained cars, which are careening about on European and American roads and freeways even today, lovingly maintained in their families' memory.
But this shall not happen in my India anymore. Why? Well, we are phasing out our cars now. Anything 10 or 15 years old, depending on the fuel-type, is fodder and dust now.
Why shouldn't it be?
We are, after all, a rich, affluent land and we can afford to do so; as in, write off our cars as per the stipulated time-period mandated by the authorities, even if the said vehicles are in perfect working order. After all (sic), we are not a Third- or Fourth-World Nation that needs to buy second- or third-hand cars, since we have all seemingly arrived. We should only buy new cars, and damn the lower-middle-class parents and their aspiration of one day owning at least one four-wheeler that shall take them and their kids on one long drive in their one lifetime.
Therefore, let's follow this-less-than-popular diktat and, instead, buy only brand-new cars and then, a few years later, discard them as scrap the moment we are told to do so.
To cut to the chase, this contentious issue really bothers me. For we are being completely idiotic and myopic, failing to see the woods for the trees. I can be harsher, but that shall be unwise in today's rather tremulous and sensitive times. So let me be garrulous. What that means is that I shall speak through these words for a bit, give you facts and figures, and leave you to determine on your own what your deciphered conclusions and answers are.
33-year-old Maruti 800
My neighbor's Man Friday recently bought a 33-year-old Maruti 800 (original shape) for Rs 12,000. Mind you, he paid this princely sum only because it had four brand-new tyres. Friday says he spent another month and a further Rs 20,000 on resurrecting the edifice and entrails of this classic vehicle (one that changed the way India drives). Voila, at half the price of a good second-hand bike, Friday now has a fully-functional, good-looking car. And he is about to embark with his missus and eight-year-old on what he hopes is the first of many once-in-a-lifetime driving expeditions.
I often drive to the hills, and knowing this, Friday approached me for some destination advice. "Where do I go", he asked me. Sadly, I was forced to give him some sobering vehicular warnings. "Friday, my man, we are phasing out old cars now because of increasing pollution. The authorities may soon ask you to scrap your car as it runs on petrol."
My friendly advice left Man Friday petrified. And he is now desperately and fervently working with India's many, many fixer quacks to see if he can spend another few thousands (or tens of thousands) and get his new four-wheeled steed to stop chomping on old-type fodder and start galloping on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or other established and acceptable variants.
A burning question
Indeed, the huge lot of old vehicles burning fossil fuels is seeing India letting off a whole lot of heat and steam today. And a huge amount of smoke and verbal vapor… But we need to note that a majority of these old vehicles are commercial runners, outstanding service performers serving the people while they clock up more mileage in the first single year of their lifetime than most personal vehicles do in 15 years or more. Clearly, one yardstick or footwear cannot fit all feet, or the shoe shall start pinching, and the especially tiny feet shall bear the brunt.
It is also leading to a situation where automobile manufacturers are moving to different fuel options to lower their distressed inventories, as people are running scared of buying even those vehicles that meet the emission norms of even the most stringent of nations, worldwide.
Get a load of this—the diesel versions moving out (or moved out) include highly-popular ones like Maruti Suzuki's Brezza mini-SUV, Swift and Dzire entry sedan, Renault's best-seller Duster, Skoda's Superb and Octavia, Volkswagen's Polo and Audi's Q3 and Q5 SUVs. And I am just scratching the surface here. The actual list is long and heart-breaking; the last because millions of Indians have bought these cars in recent years (new and pre-owned) and are now wondering when they will receive a call to consign their family pride to a scrap-heap, through policy-intervention.
Policies are evolving
Admittedly, policies related to older vehicles have been evolving steadily in India and cleaner-air norms are leading to fixing the phase-out age of vehicles in our polluted cities. Delhi announced a ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles and 15-year-old petrol vehicles. Kolkata announced a phase-out of 15-year-old vehicles. Currently, Section 59 of the amended Central Motor Vehicle Act of 2019 provides for fixing of age and restrictions on the plying of unfit vehicles.
But this does not specify the criteria for defining 'End-of-Life Vehicles' (ELVs) yet. On the other hand, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has taken the step to frame the 'Guidelines on Environmentally-Sound Facilities for Handling Processing and Recycling ELVs, 2019' to minimize environmental hazards from the disposal of old vehicles.
Therefore, a lot more people than our very own Friday need to be worried, even mortified.
Pollution is key?
If the above be the case, then there are various ways and means to combat the problem, other than destroying vehicles earned through a lifetime's savings, all in the name of an all-encompassing order. A senior automobile analyst scoffed and told me that vehicular pollution norms are already in place, with extremely stiff fines for those that don't have Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates for their personal or commercial vehicles.
I personally say have stricter, even Draconian pollution norms. Ensure adherence and penalize those that do not follow the diktat, for our national good and future. Let the vehicle-owner figure out his means and wherewithal to meet the set emission limits—even if it means upgrading the exhaust system, changing the engine and formally registering it, modifying or replacing the vehicle's Electronic Control Unit / Module (ECU, sometimes ECM), and so on. The possibilities are all there, easily available.
The bottom-line should be that we all meet the norms whichever way we can or face the wrath—pay hefty penalties, levies, scrap the offending vehicle, even prison time.
Let dreams come true
Let's not murder dreams that have been nurtured and finally, finally secured over a lifetime. Like that of our very own Man Friday. All Friday wants is to take his doting wife and little kid on a drive. Let's not create a one-for-all rule that prevents Friday from moving into first gear on a synchromesh gear train, while his clean-as-a-whistle 33-year-old-engine purrs, celebrating a new life-line.
Friday is special. All of us are. Let's be allowed to live our dreams while following the rules, and let's smile and applaud when millions of Fridays catch their first glimpse of a Himalayan vista, a sand dune, a pristine beach, or just hold the missus' hand while gazing wistfully through their first windshield.
Dreams have to come true. We only have to find a way to make them so. That shall make for an inclusive us, and a stronger India.
The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. email@example.com Views expressed are personal