"We cannot implement the norms at the cost of the industry being hurt"

The Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Oscar Fernandes, on Wednesday defended the move to delay and dilute the proposed norms on fuel efficiency for cars.

Speaking to IBN7 news channel here, the Minister reacted to the story The Hindu carried on Wednesday. “India’s priority is to provide jobs to people, advance the industry and along with it, to save oil. But we cannot do so now [implement the fuel efficiency norms] at the cost of the industry being hurt,” he said, adding: “The time to impose regulations is only when the industry is doing well and economic growth is taking place.”

His ministry, along with the Ministry for Heavy Industries, had objected to the fuel efficiency norms on two counts. On behalf of the automobile manufacturers, the Transport Ministry advocated that the implementation of standards be delayed by two years, from 2015 to 2017 and demanded that the norms be further diluted even when they are applied in 2017.

The ministry got the nodal Power Ministry to back down and agree to the delay. The government’s calculations showed that the two-year delay would imply foregoing savings amounting to 2.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent by 2020.

But, when the Power Ministry pushed ahead with notifying the delayed imposition of norms, Mr. Fernandes’s Ministry came back again yet again, asking that its second demand too is met. The lobbying put the decision in abeyance yet again after 6 years of negotiations within the government.

Sanjay Bandopadhyaya, joint secretary in the Road Transport Ministry, also explained the Ministry’s objections against the proposed norms at the Minister’s meeting with the media. “The Ministry of Power has agreed to impose standards by 2017 now. The Ministry of Heavy Industries is also with us. This is a good move, but we are doing so for the first time. We must also see that the costs of cars do not go up. The automobile industry is already under pressure. Employment is linked to it and so are several other ancillary industries. Which is why we hope that the kerb weight used as benchmark is lowered.”

Mr. Bandopadhyaya was referring to the average kerb weight of cars on the street to which the fuel efficiency standards are linked. Lowering the benchmark kerb weight reduces the efficiency targets the automobile industry has to achieve. Civil society groups have already opposed the proposed targets, claiming they are far too low and require the auto manufacturers to achieve very little improvement in their technology.

Mr. Bandopadhyaya acknowledged that his Ministry wanted a lower benchmark than what was advised by the Power Ministry’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, which is mandated to set the standards.

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