Rapidly increasing vehicular pollution and complete neglect by the authorities to take pollution-reduction measures over the past few decades have resulted in deterioration of ambient air quality across the country. A recent study by IIT Bombay states that “bad air resulted in 80,000 premature deaths in Mumbai and Delhi in 2015, and the economic burden was estimated about $10.7 billion.”
The government has started taking credible steps by stating its intentions to reduce crude imports by 10% and replacing the same by biofuels by 2022. It is backed by several initiatives by the ministry of petroleum and natural gas—5% ethanol and biodiesel blending; proposal to expedite introduction of Euro-VI fuels; and proposal to set up 12 second-generation (2G) ethanol plants in 11 states that would deal with agricultural waste burning which leads to smog. Biodiesel is one of the best and most economical options; however, states are required to actively participate to promote the green fuel.
At least eight premature deaths take place every day in Delhi due to pollution-related diseases, the Supreme Court noted while ordering the Centre to stop the use of furnace oil and petroleum coke (pet coke) by industries located in and around Delhi NCR.
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The Biodiesel Association of India (BDAI), the apex industry body for biodiesel, has been making efforts to impress upon the Centre and states to implement promotional policies to boost usage of green fuels like biodiesel. The BDAI recommended that India needs promotional policy and taxation rates for biodiesel. It is not difficult to understand that promoting biodiesel would go a long way in curbing vehicular emission and protecting the environment.
The industry has urged ministries such as transport & shipping, petroleum, and new & renewable energy to recommend to the finance ministry pragmatic policies that would lower the tax burden on green fuels.
The BDAI has also written to state governments for policies and taxation-related matters for promoting green fuel blending and implementation of pending national policy on biofuels. Recently, the BDAI also filed a petition in the Supreme Court, which appraises about the benefits of green fuels, citing findings of research and studies in the UK, the US and other countries.
The Supreme Court order on pollution only vindicates biodiesel industry’s viewpoint. Air pollution cannot be treated as a local issue. The impact of burning agricultural waste in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is felt in Delhi NCR. Let us hope that central and state authorities take up coordinated long-term policy measures to mitigate pollution for larger national interest.
As per our estimates, based on studies, biodiesel blends would reduce vehicular emission considerably. In addition, one of the key suggestions is to make available used cooking oil (UCO) and oilseeds grown in tribal areas for biodiesel production. This will prevent many health-related ailments caused due to consumption of polymerised compounds present in UCO. Oilseed collection in tribal areas will provide sustainable employment opportunities. Also, states are required to declare a promotional VAT rate for biodiesel blending. Biodiesel, being a green fuel, should not be taxed at par with high-speed diesel after blending. The industry is geared up to deliver 3 million tonnes of biodiesel by 2019 and this will provide half a million direct jobs, and 1 million jobs to ancillaries.
In 2009, the ministry of new & renewable energy came out with a national policy on biofuels. The policy set out the vision, medium-term goals, strategy and approach to biofuel development, and proposed a framework of technological, financial and institutional interventions and enabling mechanism, but it is yet to be gazetted. We expect the ministry would soon announce a policy that lays down steps to achieve the targets set by the government for reducing crude imports. The biodiesel industry has a huge potential to curb pollution and propel economic growth.
The author is president, Biodiesel Association of India