Does banning diesel vehicles reduce air pollution?
The National Green Tribunal, an environmental court in December 2015 banned the registration of diesel cars and SUVs with an engine capacity of more than 2000 cc till March 2016 in Delhi and National Capital Region. The date got further extended to April 30, 2016. The move comes in the wake of the National Capital- Delhi and its surrounding areas becoming one of the world’s most polluted cities. The Supreme Court also banned the entry of trucks not bound for Delhi to enter Delhi through NH1 and NH8 as trucks also add to the pollution levels.
Effects of diesel emission in the environment:
Based on a study at the Centre for Science and Environment, it is observed that diesel cars produce more toxic nitrogen oxide than petrol cars. According to World Health Organization, diesel emissions can also cause cancer. According to a recent study at the Zyud University, prolonged exposure to diesel emissions can cause stress responses in the brain which in turn lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Prolonged exposure to diesel emission also has adverse effect on foetal development.
Why ban diesel vehicles in Delhi?
Delhi is the biggest auto market in India accounting for nearly 23 per cent of market for diesel cars. The temporary ban has dented several major auto makers like Tata Motors, Toyota and Mahindra & Mahindra. There is a great demand for high end cars such as Fortuner, Innova, Bolero, Scorpio, Xylo, XUV 500 etc in the “power” capital which all feature 2000 cc engine.
Luxury car makers such as Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW are also severely affected by the ban, as nearly 70 percent of the total sales are from diesel cars.
Ban likely to be extended to 11 other cities:
The National Green Tribunal is proposing to extend the ban of diesel vehicles to 11 other cities. Some of the metropolitan cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad form part of the 11 cities where the ban is likely to be imposed. Kerala has already imposed the ban of registration of 2000cc diesel vehicles in the State.
According to the data released by the World Health Organization, the particulate matter (PM10) is at 118 which is “very high” in Bangalore. According to Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the quantity of Nitrous oxide (NOx), a major pollutant of vehicular emission, in the air in Bangalore is beyond the national permissible level of 80 mg/cubic metre. It is in the range of 110- 150 mg/cubic metre. Apparently, it is high in residential areas than industrial areas!
The amount of suspended particulate matter is 200 microns per meter cubed of air, also high. There are also 44 microns of Sulphur Dioxide per meter cubed of air, another high statistic. Every year the numbers seem to go higher and higher and the average person inhales more and more impurities!
Impact of high pollution levels on people:
The high pollution levels are taking a direct toll on the health of people. According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Mental Health and Neurosciences, the increased pollution levels are directly linked with the increase in the number of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. There has been an increase in the respiratory problems reported in children in the age group of 2- 10 years. Nearly, 14% of the school going children suffers from respiratory problems.
Auto industry response to the ban:
Though the move to ban the registration of new diesel vehicles is hailed by the NGT, however the auto industry body opines that a comprehensive policy to remove and scrap old vehicles would keep the pollution levels under check. Developing alternative fuels which will reduce emission should also be considered.
The auto industry also opined that a blanket ban on diesel vehicles may not solve the air pollution levels, as banning the BS IV diesel cars will legally encourage old and polluting vehicles, Pre BS (Bharat Stage)1 cars to ply on the roads though they do not meet the current emission norms set by the government. On the other hand, the new diesel cars are complaint to the current emission norms set by the government and are not polluting.
The auto industry body also opines that it is just not the cars which are polluting the air, there are lakhs of two wheelers which cause more pollution than diesel cars. According to the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, (SIAM), the ban on 2000 CC engine diesel vehicles has an insignificant impact on the air pollution levels.
Reducing Pollution from Vehicles
Proper vehicle and emission control system maintenance limit harmful emissions. Preventive automobile care also improves fuel efficiency and ensures better performance, thus extending the life of the vehicle. Thus, with the increase in the automobile population in India, zero-emission vehicles and car-pooling can be good alternatives to the existing transportation means.