21 Nov 2017 19:48 IST

Leapfrogging to BS VI in the battle for cleaner air

But even if BS VI suitable fuel is available, it won’t make a difference if vehicles aren’t compliant

Vehicular emissions and their effects on air quality have been occupying centre-stage the last two years. At the end of 2015, the Supreme Court banned diesel vehicles with engine capacity of over 2000cc in Delhi-NCR to combat air pollution. Around the same time, the Delhi government came out with the odd-even experiment where vehicles whose registration numbers ended with odd digits would ply one day and those with even digit endings would hit the roads the next.

The National Green Tribunal, too, has taken a serious view on pollution in Delhi-NCR. Vehicles over 15 years old have been banned in Delhi from late 2014. More recently, diesel vehicles above 10 years of age have been forbidden in the Capital.

The deteriorating air quality across the country prompted the government to draw up an ambitious plan to skip BS V emission norms and move directly to BS VI by 2020. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had ordered that only vehicles with BS IV-compliant engines must be sold from April 1, 2017.

Delhi’s worsening air quality is once again in the news and, now, the government plans to counter the problem by making available BS VI standards in Delhi as early as April 1, 2018.

What is all the brouhaha about BS VI emission norms and how much will it help in the battle against air pollution ? Here’s the lowdown:

BS norms

Introduced in 2000, the Bharat Stage norms are emission control standards based on the European regulations (Euro norms). These standards set specifications or limits for the release of air pollutants from equipment using internal combustion engines, including vehicles.

Typically, the higher the stage, the more stringent the norms. For instance, for diesel vehicles, BS IV standards stipulate 0.25 g/km as the limit for nitrous oxide emissions and 0.025 g/km for particulate matter emissions. Sulphur content in diesel is allowed up to 50 parts per million (ppm). Under BS VI, the cap on nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions is much lower, at 0.08 g/km and 0.015 g/km respectively. Sulphur content is allowed only up to 10 ppm.

The BS IV norms were first introduced in 13 cities, apart from the National Capital Region, in April 2010. BS IV fuel has been made available across the country since April 1, 2017. Implementation of the BS V standard was earlier scheduled for 2019. This has now been skipped. BS VI, originally proposed to come in by 2024, has been advanced to 2020, instead. As mentioned earlier, Delhi may get BS VI fuel two years in advance. The Oil Ministry has asked oil companies to explore the possibility of supplying BS VI fuel in NCR by April 1, 2019.

Practical difficulties

Considering the stricter norms on emission of pollutants, BS VI fuel will definitely make the air ‘greener’. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

For starters, BS VI fuel will work to its full potential only if vehicles are BS VI-ready. The norms also require the installation of ‘diesel particulate filters’ in vehicles to remove particulate matter from the exhaust. In addition, it will need ‘selective catalytic reduction’ technology to cut down on nitrogen oxide in the exhaust. While all auto-makers are working to meet the original deadline of April 2020 for a pan-India supply of BS VI vehicles, they are not sure if they will be able to begin supplies in Delhi by April 2018. Luxury cars, which are already running on BS VI engines in other developed countries, may be the only ones available in India by then.

Also, oil companies need to be ready to supply BS VI fuel by the advanced deadline. According to reports, not many hiccups are expected in this area. Indian Oil’s Paradip Refinery, which supplies to Delhi, produces BS VI grade fuel. However, even if oil companies supply the BS VI compliant fuel, it may not make much of a difference to the air quality if it is fed into a vehicle that is not BS VI-ready.

Fiscal issues

What could probably help curb pollution is the phasing out of vehicles that are not even BS III or BS IV compliant. The steps taken by the NGT in banning older vehicles is in the right direction. The government too came out with a discussion paper on a scrappage incentive scheme in 2014. According to this, those who sell their old vehicles for scrapping will be given a certificate. On producing this certificate at the time of buying a new vehicle, a discount of up to ₹50,000 can be availed from the manufacturer.

In the case of bigger vehicles such as trucks, some tax incentives will also be available. The total benefit in this case would be higher than ₹1.5 lakh. But the scheme has not yet been implemented as any incentive or discount given by the manufacturer may have to be borne by the government, thereby upsetting the fiscal math.

BS VI fuel alone may not be the panacea for all ills as vehicular pollution is only one of the many causes of air pollution. Issues such as burning of stubs by farmers, thermal power generation, and construction activity also contribute to air pollution. Hence, a holistic approach is needed to tackle the problem.

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