Every winter air quality of Delhi witnesses drastic deterioration. As a solution, the government often responds with immediate knee-jerk emergency measures such as ban on construction activities, restrictions on traffic, etc. Delhi is not the only city in the country that faces the problem of air pollution. As many as 14 Indian cities figure in the list of “The world’s 20 most polluted cities”, putting at risk lives of many people.
While electrification is a good antidote to minimise the problem of air pollution, large scale roll out of electric vehicles (EVs) will take several decades. And, India’s choking cities do not have the luxury of time and need immediate remedy to make air breathable for citizens. Phasing out the most polluting vehicles, promoting use of cleaner gaseous fuels (LPG and CNG), etc are some of the solutions that can deliver quick results.
Among petrol and diesel run cars, the most polluting are the ones that adhere to 10 year old emission standards. Hence, replacing the current fleet of BS IV vehicles with BS VI compliant ones rapidly can itself bring about significant improvement in air quality. It is estimated that by opting for BS VI norms, diesel cars can reduce emission of PM 2.5 matter and nitrogen oxides by 80 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively. Similarly, with BS VI-compliant petrol vehicles, NOx emissions will be lesser by 25 per cent and sulphur emissions can come down from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm.
To immediately improve air quality, the government should take steps to boost the use of cleaner gaseous fuels (such as auto LPG and CNG) as rapidly shifting to a mix of these two gaseous fuels is a much easier task than shifting to EVs. Globally, auto LPG is the third most commonly used automotive fuel after petrol and diesel. The prohibitive approval cost of as high as Rs 4 crores every three years has been extremely detrimental to the CNG & LPG retro fitment industry. Hence, the government needs to provide incentives such as subsidising conversion costs, increasing approval validity period to lifetime (instead of three years at present), permit-free usage, etc to vehicle owners who convert to auto LPG and CNG.
Two-wheelers (2W), which account for more than 75 per cent of Indian automotive market, are major source (about 40 per cent) of the vehicular pollution in the country. However, the issue of pollution due to 2W has, so far, failed to appear on the policy maker's radar. Pushing two-wheeler sector towards cleaner fuels should not cost much as 2W conversion kits are available at an affordable price of about Rs 5000-5500 along with a convenient side fitment of LPG tank. Hence, instead of single-mindedly chasing the target of shifting to EVs - a process that will take at least three-four decades to materialise - the government should look at holistic solution for pollution problem.