Insights into Editorial: Bharat Stage-VI in 3 years: Race over speedbumps

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Insights into Editorial: Bharat Stage-VI in 3 years: Race over speedbumps 


 

Summary:

From April 1, all of India moves to Bharat Stage IV (BS-IV) vehicular emission norms, already in place in several parts of the country. The fuel sector has said it is committed to the move, but sections of the auto sector continue to lobby hard for a relaxation in the deadline, citing the need to liquidate unsold stock with older emissions technology.

 

What are BS norms?

The BS — or Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following the European (Euro) emission norms, though with a time-lag of five years.

 

Emission norms in India:

India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades like catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions. Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996 — to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards. Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified Bharat Stage-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively. BS-II was for the NCR and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.

  • From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively. From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.

 

Need for emission norms:

  • Major pollutants such as fine particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by millions of vehicles on India’s roads are severely affecting the health of people, particularly children whose lungs are immature and hence more vulnerable.
  • Thousands of premature deaths and rising rates of asthma episodes highlight the urgent need to make a radical and complete shift to modern fuels and vehicle technologies.
  • Higher sulphur results in high volumes of fine respirable particulates measuring 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) being generated in emissions.
  • Since even this obsolete standard was not followed uniformly, many vehicles, especially commercial passenger and freight carriers, have been using lower standard fuel supplied outside big cities. This has rendered their catalytic converters incapable of absorbing pollutants.

 

Why is it important to upgrade these norms?

Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution. Global automakers are betting big on India as vehicle penetration is still low here, when compared to developed countries. At the same time, cities such as Delhi are already being listed among those with the poorest air quality in the world. The national capital’s recent odd-even car experiment and judicial activism against the registration of big diesel cars shows that governments can no longer afford to relax on this front.

  • With other developing countries such as China having already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago, India has been lagging behind.
  • The experience of countries such as China and Malaysia shows that poor air quality can be bad for business. Therefore, these reforms can put India ahead in the race for investments too.

 

Challenges before the government:

  • There are questions about the ability of oil marketing companies to quickly upgrade fuel quality from BS-III and BS-IV standards to BS-VI, which is likely to cost upwards of Rs 40,000 crore.
  • More challenging is the task of getting auto firms to make the leap. Automakers have said that going to BS-VI directly would leave them with not enough time to design changes in their vehicles, considering that two critical components — diesel particulate filter and selective catalytic reduction module — would have to be adapted to India’s peculiar conditions, where running speeds are much lower than in Europe or the US.
  • Also, the rollout model of introducing higher grade fuel and vehicles first in the cities has fundamental drawbacks, as was evident in the BS-IV implementation. In the periphery of designated BS-IV cities, BS-III vehicles could be registered; BS-IV vehicles (especially heavy vehicles) were more expensive, and BS-III fuel was cheaper than the BS-IV equivalent. And interstate trucks and buses, the biggest polluters, were forced to stay on with BS-III engines simply because the fuel outside cities did not conform to BS-IV norms.

 

What will change after the new norms kick in?

  • The BS-IV compliant fuels have sulphur concentration of 50 parts per million (ppm). This will come down to as low as 10 ppm in BS-VI compliant fuels and auto engines. This means a lower level of harmful emissions and reduced incidence of lung diseases.
  • The switch to BS-VI norms will also reduce concentration of carbon monoxide, unburnt hydrocarbons, nitrous oxide and particulate matter from emissions.
  • Finally, the quality upgrade will also result in diesel’s cost of production going up by 63 paise per litre and petrol by Rs 1.40 per litre. The switch will also make petrol vehicles costly by Rs 50,000 and diesel vehicles by Rs 1 lakh.
  • For consumers, this translates into higher retail prices of petrol and diesel.

 

Way ahead:

A bigger bugbear for the auto sector is the fact that under the auto fuel policy, the intermediate BS-V level is to be skipped, and automakers and fuel suppliers are expected to leapfrog straight to BS-VI norms by April 1, 2020. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways had issued a draft notification to this effect on February 19 last year. Recently, the government said it remains committed to meeting that deadline.

The implementation of the intermediate stage — BS-V standard — was originally scheduled for 2019. While this stage has been bypassed, the BS-VI standard, originally proposed to come in by 2024, has been advanced by 4 years — in line with promises India made at the Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, and the broad public sentiment against dangerously high levels of air pollution in major Indian cities.

 

Conclusion:

The ultimate aim is that mass emissions to atmosphere must not exceed the values recommended by international standards. For export purposes however we have to comply with Euro or any other norms acceptable in the foreign market. We have to balance the market forces and the societal objective of keeping our air cleaner.