Editorial

Welcome measure to clean the air

The >Centre’s decision to >adopt Bharat Stage VI automotive fuels nationwide by April 1, 2020 is a key measure that can, if implemented properly, vastly improve air quality. Rolling out the BS VI standard nationally, skipping BS V, has significant cost implications for fuel producers and the automobile industry, but its positive impact on public health would more than compensate for the investment. Major pollutants such as fine particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by millions of vehicles on India’s roads are severely affecting the health of people, particularly children whose lungs are immature and hence more vulnerable. Thousands of premature deaths and rising rates of asthma episodes highlight the urgent need to make a radical and complete shift to modern fuels and vehicle technologies. Past national policy of implementation of the BS IV fuel standard failed primarily because this was not done all over the country and the technical standard also permitted a higher level of sulphur in the fuel. Higher sulphur results in high volumes of fine respirable particulates measuring 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) being generated in emissions. Since even this obsolete standard was not followed uniformly, many vehicles, especially commercial passenger and freight carriers, have been using lower standard fuel supplied outside big cities. This has rendered their catalytic converters incapable of absorbing pollutants.

Improved air quality, especially in big urban centres, depends on several factors in an era of fast motorisation. A bloated population of vehicles using fossil fuels has affected travel speeds, worsening pollution levels. Poor civic governance has left roads unpaved and public spaces filled with debris and construction dust, constantly re-circulating particulate matter in the air. Moreover, the monitoring of diesel passenger and commercial vehicles – the biggest contributors to total emissions – for compliance with emissions regulations remains poor. Such a record does not inspire confidence that retrofitting of old vehicles to use higher quality fuels such as BS VI can be achieved smoothly. Equally, the distortions in urban development policy that facilitate the use of personal motorised vehicles rather than expanding good public transport, walking and cycling, are glaring. Many of these issues were underscored by the Saumitra Chaudhuri Committee on Auto Fuel Vision and Policy 2025 in its report submitted in 2014. The panel also recommended appropriate levies to fund the transition to cleaner, low sulphur fuels. A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi on fuel policy and air quality in the same year concluded that the best results would be achieved by raising the fuel standard and introducing policy initiatives that would influence passenger behaviour and cut personal travel kilometres by 25 per cent. The government has done well to advance the deadline for cleaner fuels by three years. It must show the same diligence in making other policy changes in partnership with State governments to clean up the air.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 6:18:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Welcome-measure-to-clean-the-air/article13994220.ece

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