Supreme Court's embargo on polluting vehicles is creating ripples across
all layers of the economy, Arindam De of Indiabiznews.com weaves a detail
of the detrimental effects of the particulates and delves deep into the
train of events.
Environment & Economics
Air is a 'free good', which is abundant and 'on tap'. So there is practically
no economic rationale for a statutory body levying taxes on breathable
air because of its 'common property' status.
All economic activities have concomitant costs that fall on third parties.
Air pollution is one such glaring example of 'negative externality' -
where polluting agents (vehicles, industries) do not bear the costs of
their effluents that have harmful upshots. Abatement of pollution has
thus become the cornerstone of development economics in recent times.
Several European nations have air and water pollution charges -- unit
pricing for trash pickup, charging by the amount of trash collected (or
the size of the container). The charge makes it worthwhile for a producer
to cut back, right up to the point where it begins to cost more to reduce
pollution than to pay the tax.
The Superfund Law enacted through Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), by US Congress in 1980 heralded
the mission of cleaning up existing toxic sites at America.
In India, pollution control mechanisms are gaining grounds, thick and
fast with the apex court issuing injunctions to contain vehicular pollution.
Since a staggering-70% of India's crude is imported and is by far the
biggest item on India's import bill, the Government is left with little
option but to revise the unwieldy cross subsidies that distort the prices
of diesel, petrol, kerosene, LPG, CNG and other fuels. Price distortion
is one of the key causes for rampant adulteration and hence pollution.
The removal of Administered Price Mechanism (APM) thus guarantees a market-determined
competitive pricing structure.
Conventional Fuels: a damage valuation
Diesel accounts for roughly 48% of India's fuel consumption of which roughly
70% goes to the transport sector while the share of petrol is less than
7%. The present price of diesel at roughly 60% the price of petrol makes
diesel the preferred fuel for long distance transport vehicles with big
engines. But evidences revealing toxicity of diesel particulates are mounting
by leaps and bounds. Numerous studies show that over 90% of fine particles
emanating from diesel vehicles are sized less than 1 micron (one-thousandth
of a millimeter). Naturally, smaller the size of these particulates the
deadlier they are, as they go deep into the lungs and inflict damage.
They also have been found to be carcinogenic simply because diesel exhaust
contains high levels of polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons (PAH), which
can even affect the genetic makeup and future progeny by damaging the
A colossal new study by Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA)
has unveiled that a mere increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/cum)
of fine particles (smaller than 2.5 microns or 2.5 ppm) can intensify
the risk of lung cancer by 8 per cent, cardiopulmonary deaths by 6 per
cent and all deaths by 4 per cent.
As per another influential (and controversial) study by the American Cancer
Society (ACS), commonly referred to as the Six City Study, the death rate
of the surveyed cities in USA was found to bear a direct correlation with
the level of fine and sulphate particles in air.
Alternative transportation fuels: the myths & facts
Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons-mainly methane (CH4) and is produced
either from gas wells or in conjunction with crude oil production.
The interest for natural gas as an alternative fuel stems mainly from
its clean burning qualities, its domestic resource base, and its commercial
availability to end-users. Because of the gaseous nature of this fuel,
it must be stored onboard a vehicle in either a compressed gaseous state
(CNG) or in a liquefied state (LNG).
|| Sulphur level in diesel
|| Carbon monoxide
|| Nitrogen oxide
|| Particulate matter
| 1992 standards
|| No standard
| 1996 standards
|| No standard
| Bharat Stage I, April 2000
| Bharat Stage II (EURO II standards) October 2001
|| 500 ppm (0.05 per cent)
| EURO III standards
|| 350 ppm (0.035 per cent)
| EURO IV standards
|| 50-10 ppm (0.005-0.001 per cent)
| Ashok Leyland CNG bus
| Telco CNG bus
1 CNG Scores; Source: IARI/CSE
Hydrocarbon are a small fraction of total hydrocarbon in CNG vehicles
** Certificate from ARAI says particulates negligible and so for purposes
of calculation we have used the lowest the machine could estimate.
one of the harsh realities of Indian democratic setup and evolving pygmy
economy that water, air, health and the social costs associated with them
are not issues that occupy the nub of politics. It is precisely because
of this that the Supreme Court had to bestir the conscience of the polity
by mandating CNG for buses/heavy commercial vehicles in the National Capital
Region of Delhi in order to arrest pollution. But this decision has run
into rough weathers for throwing the public transport system of the capital
out of gear and forcing the transporters to overhaul their vehicles. Several
mythical versions of damaging effects of CNG are even being scored by
The Union government argued in Court that CNG emits ultra-fine particles
than diesel and is therefore, more toxic. The evidence cited to prove
this contention is a `study' done by the US-based Harvard Centre for Risk
Analysis. But the "Harvard" study, which is a literature survey, opines
that CNG effluents are comparable with near sulphur-less diesel (50-10
ppm or 0.005-0.001 per cent sulphur in diesel) adhering to Euro IV norms.
Moreover, Tata energy research institute (TERI) is raking up a controversy
by advocating ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD) (sulphur content below 30
ppm / 0.003 per cent) over CNG, which marks Euro II compliant diesel as
the immediate strategy. On the contrary, diesel can be compared with other
environmentally acceptable fuels only when it comes as part of a package
with advanced diesel technology, state of the art exhaust treatment devices
like continuously regenerating particulate-traps along with diesel fuel
with only 0.001 per cent (10 ppm) sulphur content and low aromatics content.
But this combination is still experimental and not yet commercially viable.
A cylinder blast is just what the anti-CNG establishments need to prove
that real adversity is in store for Delhi once the entire public transport
system gets converted to CNG. But the fact remains -- CNG that is lighter
than air quickly dissipates into the environment and is unlikely to acquire
enough concentration in the air to explode. Moreover, CNG has a higher
'flash point' (the temperature at which the fuel is likely to explode
on its own) of 540 degree Celsius than petrol, which has a 'flash point'
of 232-282 degree Celsius. In the event of a vehicle collision, CNG fuel
tanks are much stronger and safer than either diesel or gasoline fuel
tanks, as per the US Department of Energy findings.
The biggest safety problem in India, however, is the use of spurious cylinders,
especially when unauthorized agents for cars, taxis or autos carry out
conversions from petrol to CNG. But this problem can be addressed through
adequate monitoring and implementation efforts.
Ironically, despite the growing concern over safety, the regulatory agencies
(predominantly anti-CNG) have never cared to evaluate the safety regulations
in force for CNG vehicles. Delhi-based agency, Centre for Science & Environment
(CSE) took the onus and invited three international experts, Christopher
Weaver, President, Engine, Fuel, and Emissions Enginering, Inc., USA,
Lennart Erlandsson of Motor Testing Centre, Sweden, and Frank Dursbeck
formerly with TUV Rheinland Sicherheit Und Umweltschutz GMBH, Germany
with wide experience in CNG technology to come and evaluate all currently
available CNG technology in India. Their report has mapped valuable policy
and safety guidelines in this regard.
Mashelkar Committee & Auto Fuel Policy
The committee was constituted on Sep 13, 2001, to recommend an Auto Fuel
Policy for metro cities and the rest of the country that would devise
a road map for implementation of suitable auto fuels, technologies and
fiscal measures for ensuring minimization of the social cost for meeting
environmental quality standards.
But the Interim report presented by the committee has been a huge setback.
Instead of setting up an explicit mandate to safeguard public health,
the Government and the Automobile Industry had literally arm-twisted the
committee to prescribe just the emission standards without dwelling on
fuel quality and engine technology. The alacrity with which the Interim
report was accepted by the Cabinet, especially when it appeared to take
the controversial position that diesel was preferable to CNG, underlines
Government's 'hand-in-glove' link with automobile companies and the duplicity,
which envelop the oil sector.
While SIAM had committed industry to meet Euro III emission norms for
the entire country by 2004, the Mashelkar Report, instead, unnecessarily
stretches this time limit till 2010 - meting out slow death to the careworn
The road ahead.
The transition to 'clean
fuel' in the form of CNG and the upcoming Auto-LPG variants is all
set for the cleanup. The harried commuters had to pay a price for traveling,
all right, but this is much short-lived than an excruciating journey towards
death each day.
In turn, the regulatory authorities should come up with stringent stipulations
like 'polluter pays principle,' making it mandatory for polluters
to pay in proportion to their contribution to pollution and resulting
damages. Sensitization of people through 'merit-goods'
like anti-pollution advertisements and campaigns should take centrestage.