If you are an automobile manufacturer, supplier, retailer or generally part of the automotive business in this country, you are probably quite frustrated right now. The past few years have been topsy-turvy, with growth struggling to stay in the high single-digits. Consumption patterns have gone awry thanks to fluctuating fuel prices, poor monsoons, general macro-economic policies and now, to add to that, NGT and the Supreme Court’s diktat’s on Delhi’s abysmal air quality.
No one doubts that Delhi is a highly polluted city and that large metros across India are grappling with the problem. Were the solution to attack every source of pollution, we would have to say that the NGT and India’s highest court are doing the right job. A fair assessment of the situation on the ground. But, as has been the case, both ignored empirical data and found automobiles and by that count, the auto industry the biggest contributors. At this point, Airbus and Boeing are probably heaving a sigh of relief, so are poultry farm owners, those who burn hay, industries and other allied sources of pollution. Easy pickings, right?
The logic, however well meaning, is flawed. And today, they have announced a blanket ban on all diesels registered in Delhi in the last ten years. That is putting the veritable nail in the coffin, through and through, not concerned that the nail is jutting out of the woodwork.
Let’s take the classic example of a first-generation Toyota Innova owner for example. Say, your firm bought you the car in early 2005 when you were a mid-50s executive, hung on to it post retirement and still do, because it provides sterling service. More importantly, you can’t afford to buy a new one anymore and hope that it will stay with you for many more years to come. Imagine the plight of just such a person now that the order is passed. Too much of a first world problem? Then consider someone who bought their first car prior to 2006 and continue to hold on to it because their good days are behind them. The car merely serves the purpose of transportation and you simply can’t muster up the lakhs of rupees required to buy a new one. What do you do then?
What is strange with the order is that while BS-III norms were applied to all cars sold in metros from April 1, 2005, there will still be BS-III diesel cars plying on Delhi’s roads for the next four years (if the rule stays). This is like a backhanded compliment to anyone with a BS-III car today. Either way you are in for a mighty fall.
Why this rule seems myopic too is that, it’s blanket in nature and with immediate effect. If you have maintained your car regularly, ensured you have followed oil change routines thoroughly, cleaned/changed oil air filters as specified and generally driven sanely, your 10-year old car is probably as much or at times less polluting than a modern car. That somehow doesn’t seem to register with the NGT. Moreover, most of the pollution in Delhi isn’t Delhi’s creation. It’s the entire North belt, a pollution and dust bowl that will not help mitigate matters. This ‘cleansing’ is literally a drop in the ocean. And what of the rest of the country, where BS-III fuel is available (outside the metros)? Isn’t it the government’s duty to immediately ensure BS-IV fuel is available all across?
Solutions to pollution control in India? The mind truly boggles.