The Supreme Court order to ban new diesel cars, however temporary, is very welcome. Many will have problems with it, many will demand more. But at least more people are talking about solutions.
For anybody living under the Indian haze, pollution and climate change are linked. In the last few days, between Paris and Delhi, both have unprecedentedly peaked in the headlines and, hopefully, public consciousness.
The governments at the Centre and Delhi have arguably done well to set the agenda on the two fronts. Now they should announce a five-year plan on their agenda. This is not for any power politics abroad, even though the Paris climate summit called for a review of emission cuts every five years, but for the people in India. There couldn't be a better time to build policy and rules from scratch to work towards a cleaner planet and breathing easy: the polity is prepped even if not entirely understanding.
Ambient pollution is not a Delhi problem alone. The air quality index reports danger levels many times the health limit across North India. From the plains of Punjab to Bihar, that's roughly 400 million people.
Of course there are several causes, but vehicular pollution is one of the biggest. And the biggest doable decision to tackle this would be to leapfrog from the current Bharat Stage 4 to Euro 6/Bharat Stage 6 vehicle and fuel standards. A study by Delhi's CSE shows that this move alone will reduce diesel NOx emissions by 68% and particulate matter (PM) by 80%. The leapfrog will cut NOx emissions in trucks by a massive 89%, and PM by half. Even petrol engine emissions will be reduced by 25%.
If the government can't do it, the Supreme Court should step in and order an early start date; 2017-end gives the oil and auto industry two years, The Kejriwal government and CSE also back 2017. 2018/19 is what the NGO which exposed Volkswagen's emission fraud said two years ago. But the Central government only wants it in 2021. That's just too late, especially if you consider that it is taking the Centre seven years from 2010 to rollout Bharat Stage 4!
To avoid another interminable rollout, the court should order its implementation across the country over, say, two years, not seven. The Environment Minister has put a cost to the government's 2021 roadmap to Euro 6 - more than ₹60,000 crore in investments. He rightly calls Euro 6 a game-changer - but not at this pace.
Vikram Kirloskar of Toyota Kirloskar says that compared to nations like Indonesia, regulations in India are ahead. But looking back is hardly a yardstick when pollution has hit emergency levels and the health of our children is at stake.
The lawyer assisting the Supreme Court in this case, Harish Salve, says the court may order more tough action, possibly a penalty, even against small diesel engines. In Delhi, according to one estimate, the sub-2000 cc diesel cars sell approximately five times more than 2000+ cc diesel engines (the type banned by the top court).
Change will also have to come to two-wheelers, maybe sooner than expected. These are more polluting than cars, causing 32% vs 22% of Delhi's pollution, says Bhure Lal, of the Supreme Court's Environment Pollution Authority. He points out that of the roughly 8.5 million registered vehicles in Delhi, 5.5 million are two wheelers.
The hardest sell, however, will be on climate change and bringing carbon emissions under control. Many except the poorest have a massive carbon footprint and most of us don't even have a clue about ours. Ditto for private and government firms as well as government departments. Perhaps the next Budget, in the works now, would be a good place to incentivize clean tech for everything from houses to ports. Every price tag could also mention the carbon footprint of that product or that firm. Making this statutory in, say, three or four years could be path-breaking. Again, such steps shouldn't be because of global pressure, but because it's good for the country.
Obviously, it's not going to be easy to change. Many of us either have or aspire to a lifestyle which is vastly polluting. The response to the Supreme Court's diesel order shows that firms or people will react to the killer air crisis only if pushed to do so. A beginning has finally been made.(Chetan Bhattacharji is Managing Editor at NDTV)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.