The Supreme Court has acknowledged that dieselisation of cars needs to be addressed with effective tax measures
The Court has sought a report on the status of public transport
New Delhi, November 26, 2012: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has welcomed a proposal to tax diesel cars. The proposal — mooted in the Supreme Court today by amicus curiae Harish Salve — is based on a report from the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), which calls for restraining the rapid increase in diesel cars with effective tax measures (both Salve’s proposaland the EPCA diesel report are available on the CSE website). The apex court has responded positively to the proposal.
The interim application submitted to the Supreme Court proposes:
i) an annual environment compensation charge amounting to 2 per cent of the purchase value of a petrol car and 4 per cent of the purchase value of a diesel car to be levied on all private cars in the NCR region to be collected annually, and
ii) an environment compensation charge of 25 per cent of the sale value of the vehicle to be levied on the sale of each private diesel car, which is to be collected by the dealers at the time of the sale.
The court’s bench has issued a notice to the government, asking for a report on the status of public transport as well as the progress of the eastern and western peripheral expressways needed to bypass the truck traffic in Delhi.
Diesel and its public health impacts
The interim application from Salve has brought to the notice of the bench that “early winter pollution levels have already spiked to very unhealthy levels. These levels are unacceptable, because they are a clear health hazard. Already, there is evidence of severe respiratory ailments afflicting people. Pollution levels are increasing each year in Delhi so that each winter is more toxic and unhealthy to breathe.”
The application further added that “After the introduction of CNG the city’s air pollution levels levelled for four years. This was an enormous success of the CNG transition. But since then every year has seen a steady increase. Restraint on the uncontrolled dieselisation of the car segment has become necessary….”
The key reasons cited for the rising toxicity of air are as follows:
- · Growing numbers of vehicles in the city: Delhi adds roughly 1,400 new vehicles a day to its fleet – more than double of what was added in the city in the pre-CNG period. One third of these are cars.
- · Growing numbers of diesel vehicles in the city: The market share of diesel cars is more than 50 per cent of the sales – unlike pre-CNG days. The diesel emission norms legally allow higher limits for NOx and particulate emissions as compared to a petrol car.
- · Explosion of inter-state trips in the NCR region: In 2010, there were 1.2 million vehicles entering and leaving Delhi every day and over 70 per cent of these vehicles were cars.
Need urgent action to control dieselisation of cars
More substantive information on the problem of dieselization submitted to the court highlights the following:
- · High exposure to vehicular pollution in Delhi: There is often a tendency to underplay the contribution of vehicles, especially diesel vehicles, as a source of particulate pollution. However, new studies have drawn attention to the fact that maximum exposure to vehicular fume is up to 500 meters from roadside. More than 55 per cent of Delhi’s population lives in that zone. This is now increasingly laced with toxic emissions from diesel.
- · WHO has reclassified diesel exhaust as class I carcinogen for its definite link with lung cancer: In June this year, the International Agency on Cancer Research of the WHO has reclassified diesel exhaust as class I carcinogen with definite links to lung cancer and has brought it in the same class of deadly carcinogens as asbestos, arsenic or tobacco. Many studies have been published that show significant increased risk of lung cancer from exposure to diesel fumes. For example, a large cohort study in the US trucking industry reported a 15-40 per cent increased lung cancer risk in drivers and dockworkers with regular exposure to diesel exhaust. Lung cancer risk in Delhi is reported to be high; the doctors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences have reported high and rising incidence of lung cancer among non-smokers.
- · Cancer causing potential of Bharat stage IV diesel car remains higher than petrol cars: Diesel and petrol cars meeting the same level of emission norms have different toxicity levels. The toxicity is several times higher for diesel emissions even as the emission standards are progressively tightened. Bharat stage IV standards do not require use of clean diesel and advanced particulate traps to effectively reduce diesel PM.
- · There is no timeline in India for introduction of clean diesel fuel (10ppm sulphur) and clean diesel technology nation-wide: The government of India has not yet set the deadline for clean diesel fuel (10ppm sulphur) and Euro VI emissions standards.
- · Only at Euro VI level emissions from diesel and petrol cars become comparable: Diesel cars become comparable with petrol cars only at Euro VI level. Even then diesel NOx is a little higher than petrol cars. Euro VI will be implemented in Europe in the time horizon of 2014-15.
- · Prevent trade-off between fuel efficiency and pollution: Diesel cars are 15 to 20 per cent more fuel efficient compared to petrol car, but emit harmful pollutants. Data from Automotive Research Association of India shows that comparable diesel cars emit seven times more particulate matter, and 7.5 times more air toxins than petrol cars.
- · Subsidy for toxic diesel emissions is unacceptable: It is just not the tax differences, but also the under recovery of the actual price of the fuel which adds to the burden as well as to the hidden subsidy to the car owner. Diesel is responsible for the highest share of under recovery – 58 per cent. This also means that oil marketing companies and government are shouldering a part of the under-recovery burden for car owners.
CSE supports the initiative to restrain diesel cars by imposing strict fiscal measures to reduce toxicity of air. Higher taxes at the time of purchase as well as annual taxes as proposed can help neutralise the cheap running costs. Urgent action is needed to protect public health.