It seems that there is no respite from air pollution in Delhi. Bad air seems to be the norm unless rain/strong winds ameliorate the situation. In Delhi, air pollution levels in the past 10 years have been consistently above 100 g per m³, which is more than 10 times the permissible limit. Existing research shows that this leads to a reduction of nine years from the life expectancy of an average Delhiite.
In spite of intervention by the court, the burning of crop residue goes unchecked. Delhi needs to look inwards and introspect on the extent to which it can reduce emissions that are under its control. Can it make a subtle difference in limiting vehicular emissions through policy interventions? Mind it, fossil fuel-based vehicles contribute nearly 39 per cent of the total air pollution in Delhi. So, the question is whether policy intervention can substantially reduce the size of this pie. Of course, complementary policy intervention is required to reduce air pollution originating from road dust (18 per cent), industries (14 per cent) and construction activities (8 per cent).
Multisector policy interventions are probably the only way to clean the air in the country, including Delhi. Over the years, the Indian government has constituted multiple institutions and policies for monitoring and promoting air quality. Notable among them is the tightening of the emission limits for particulate matter (PM) from the transport sector.
The Indian government has also adopted a more stringent level of emission standards, namely, BS-VI, for all vehicles manufactured on or after April 1, 2020. This will bring India’s motor vehicle regulations in direct alignment with the European Union regulation on emission standards (ICCT – 2016 and India BS-VI Standards). This is in addition to the earlier measure from 2001 that adopted compressed natural gas as the fuel for all public transport in Delhi. Recognising the gravity of the issue of air pollution, further targets towards electrification of public transport fleets and hydrogen fuel vehicles have been proposed by NITI Aayog in its policy document for building a new India. To encourage the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), the central government has introduced the Fame I and II schemes, which provide subsidies to buyers for purchasing EVs. The scrappage policy for old vehicles is now also in place. In 2019, the Delhi government came up with a draft EV policy, through which it supported the EV subsidy model and set up targets for the next five years. Lastly, only diesel vehicles that are younger than 10 years and petrol vehicles that are younger than 15 years are now allowed to ply in Delhi.
Will these policy interventions limit emissions from the transportation sector in Delhi? This has been judged by calibrating the International Vehicle Emissions (IVE) model, the popular worldwide policy tool for such analysis, using data on the characteristics and usage patterns of Delhi’s vehicles. To be specific, IVE assumes that the total amount of emissions is a function of the number of vehicles by type, the emission levels of these different types of vehicles, and the average distance covered every day by these vehicles. The data needed for calibrating the model to simulate the Delhi transport sector is mainly drawn from published government sources such as registration data on new vehicles; emission data on PM, hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOX) levels from the Central Pollution control board; retirement of vehicles as per government norms average distance travelled and vehicle usage based on previous data Google’s Community Mobility Report etc. The model is calibrated taking into account the downturn effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on vehicle sales.
Three scenarios have been devised. The first is the optimistic scenario (OPS), which assumes that all of the set policy targets of the Indian government will be realised as planned. The two primary policies that come under OPS are promotion of clean fuels (BS-VI) for the automotive sector and transition to EVs. The second scenario is the pessimistic scenario (PES), which assumes that the implementation of all the OPS targets will eventually take place, but with a delay of three years on account of India’s bureaucratic set-ups. The third, the business as usual scenario (BAU), assumes no policy interventions in the transport sector and a status quo to be in operation for the coming decade, which is our reference scenario for comparison. Some specific details of the scenarios are provided in the table.
We predict a moderate decline in PM, HC, CO, and NOX emissions in the OPS owing to the proposed introduction of BS-VI and battery electric fuel vehicles. Our analysis suggests that in the OPS, emissions from PM, CO, HC, and NOX will fall by 53 per cent, 1 per cent, 27 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, by 2030. A reduction of 53 per cent in PM emissions from the transport sector in the OPS would amount to a 20.67 per cent decrease in the overall PM emission level in the city by the year 2030. The transition of two-wheelers into EVs can be a major driver for a 9 per cent emission difference between the OPS and BAU scenarios. CO emission levels are expected to rise by 16 per cent and 40 per cent from the 2021 levels in the PES and BAU scenarios respectively.
In sum, policy interventions may lead to some reduction in emissions in Delhi. However, multi-front action is needed for the successful implementation of these policies. There is a need to discourage personal use of vehicles among citizens through various incentive/disincentive mechanisms such as increased parking fees, increased tax on fuel/vehicles, pedestrian-friendly policies, a non-fossil-fuel-based transportation system, and increased reach of public transport. Carpooling as an alternative should also be endorsed. The government should promote public transport through aggressive subsidisation of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and metro services. EVs have the potential to be the major driving force in emission reduction in the coming years. There is a need for the government to subsidise EVs, promote investment in the critical battery technology, and find innovative ways to expand the fast battery charging network in the city to promote EVs.
But the slowdown in the economy has hit the transport sector hard, and it is currently reeling from the downturn. This has reduced the automotive sector’s ability to invest in EV technologies. Therefore, the auto sector has been depending on imports for critical components for some time now. Recently, in September 2021, the government announced a large-scale production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme amounting to Rs 260.58 billion for the auto sector. The focus of the auto sector PLI scheme is primarily on promoting the manufacture of EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This is definitely a positive step towards reducing emissions from the transportation sector in cities like Delhi.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ personal views.