Hope on air quality: How air quality in north India can be transformed within 5 years

Air pollution in Delhi has been rightly described as a health emergency. In the Union budget, the finance minister enhanced the outlay for reducing air pollution to Rs 4,400 crore, almost a tenfold increase, and states should follow this lead.

The National Clean Air Program, started over a year back, has the goal of improving air quality by 25-30%. Since the causes of, and mitigation measures for air pollution are better understood now, it is time to raise the nation’s ambition to getting fully clean air by 2025.

From April 1, this year, all auto manufacturers would be selling only BS-VI compliant vehicles, with BS-VI petrol and diesel being supplied across the country. Does this mean that air pollution would fall sharply? Unfortunately, no. A BS-III standard vehicle would continue to pollute in almost the same way even if it uses BS-VI fuel.

The full benefits from the new standards would be experienced only when all the vehicles made for BS-IV, III, and II stop being used. This may take 15-20 years. Is there a way to accelerate this? During the 2008 financial crisis, Germany did something unusual to give relief to its auto industry in their “cash for clunkers” program. Under this, if an old vehicle was traded in for a new one, a substantial rebate was given.

In India, a 50% lower GST rate on the sale of a new vehicle, in case an older one is traded in, would amount to a 10% reduction in the price. This should work as an incentive. To begin with, this may be offered for all BS-II and III commercial vehicles.

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