Poor air quality in our cities has emerged as a source of serious health concern in recent years. As many as 14 Indian cities figure in the notorious list of the world’s 20 ‘most polluted’ cities, putting an entire generation of Indians at serious health risks. A study published recently in the Lancet Planetary Health journal estimates that 77 per cent of India's population is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) safe limit. It also estimates that around 12.4 lakh deaths in India in 2017 could be attributed to air pollution.
Vehicular emissions comprise a major source of air pollutants, particularly the harmful PM 2.5. A recent study conducted by researchers from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), George Washington University, and the University of Colorado Boulder in the US estimated that vehicle tailpipe emissions were linked to about 385,000 premature deaths from ambient PM 2.5 and ozone worldwide in 2015. An estimated 70 per cent of these occurred in the four largest vehicle markets -- China, India, the EU, and the US.
While the figures paint a grim picture, we see no urgency on the ground towards bringing about an immediate improvement in air quality standards. Indian government has put a long term policy focus on shifting to electricity as a transport fuel. However, this will bear fruits only after several decades of work and infrastructural development. Immediate policy intervention to phase out the most polluting vehicles while bringing about a rapid shift to cleaner gaseous fuels such as auto LPG and CNG can help us clean our urban air faster.
Implement strict BS VI norms
The Supreme Court has already directed the government to ensure that only BS-VI vehicles are sold in the country from April 1, 2020. It is estimated that implementing these new norms will require investing nearly USD 0.013 trillion in new technology and upgradation of vehicles in inventory. The government must set itself clear targets to achieve this goal, and look for ways for faster implementation by offering incentives and tax breaks to manufacturers to upgrade their technology.
Replacing the current fleet of BS-IV vehicles by BS VI compliant ones rapidly can itself bring about significant improvement in air quality. BS-VI norms for car manufacturers can reduce PM 2.5 matter from diesel cars by 80% and nitrogen oxides by 70%. NOx emissions will be lesser by 25% in petrol vehicles after implementation of BS VI norms while sulphur emissions are expected to come down from 50 parts per million to 10 ppm.
Turn to gaseous fuels
While a large number of buses and public transport vehicles in several cities are already running on CNG, it is also necessary to convert a substantial number of private vehicles to gaseous fuels. And a single-minded focus on CNG will not be sufficient. Auto LPG is another very viable and quickly deployable option for private vehicles. Rapidly shifting to a mix of these two gaseous fuels is a much easier task than shifting to EVs, and can bring about an immediate improvement in air quality. In fact, auto LPG has several advantages over CNG including 5-6 times lesser installation cost for refuelling stations and lesser engine performance loss. Globally, Auto LPG is the third most commonly used automotive fuel after Petrol and Diesel; and seven of the 10 largest car manufacturers produce LPG powered cars. Auto LPG occupies meagre space in car boots and can be transported in cylinders via lorries to reach distant outposts for quick accessibility.
The government also needs to incentivize vehicle owners who convert to auto LPG and CNG. One important policy intervention urgently required is changing the existing system of Type Approvals for vehicles converting to gaseous fuels. The Type Approval norms of the Ministry of Road Transport in India require companies to renew extremely cost prohibitive Type Approvals for Auto LPG and CNG conversions every three years. This has resulted in a rapid dwindling of players in the retro-fitment market. The Type Approval Validity must be made perpetual in line with European norms. Similarly, the GST rate on LPG conversion kits for vehicles which currently lies in the highest slab of 28% must be reduced to 5% as a measure to push up the rates of vehicle conversions to the environment-friendly fuel.
Pushing two-wheelers to run on clean fuels
Notably, more than 40% of the vehicular pollution in Delhi comes from two-wheelers. Across the country, 2-wheelers account for more than 75% of the vehicle population. Unfortunately, most policy interventions fail to address this significant cause of pollution. Pollution from two-wheelers will not be addressed by EVs even in the long run. Much like four wheelers, we need to start pushing two-wheelers towards cleaner fuels as well. Here again, auto LPG makes for the most viable alternative with 2 Wheeler Conversion Kit available at an affordable price of about Rs 5000-5500 along with a convenient side fitment of LPG Tank.
Reward clean commuters
A number of European countries such as France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy offer tax breaks to people who cycle to work. For example, over 400,000 Belgians, or 9% of the country’s workforce receive a cycling reimbursement based on kilometres cycled to and from work. India can take a leaf or two out of these success stories and start by incentivizing citizens who chose green transport options. Measures like interest-free loans for buying electric or hybrid cars and subsidies for converting to auto LPG and CNG are options that must be explored to bring about behavioural change in consumer behaviour.
Author: Suyash Gupta, Director General, Indian Auto LPG Coalition
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