India hosts 14 of the most polluted cities in the world (based on PM 2.5 levels), which include Kanpur (173 µg/m3), Faridabad (172 µg/m3), Varanasi (151 µg/m3), and the capital city, Delhi grappling with a PM 2.5 level of 143 µg/m3 as per a WHO report in 2018. From there onward, the condition has only worsened. (1)
Concerns regarding such high levels of pollution have been noted in several parts of the country, especially in the capital city in the past few years. To address such rising air pollution levels and its subsequent effects, in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled to adopt BS-VI norms by 1st April 2020.
What are BS-VI Norms?
One of the primary contributors to the global rise in air pollution is harmful gases, emitted by motor vehicles. To curb this, global vehicle standards have upgraded to diesel and petrol vehicles that emit extremely low levels of PM 2.5; whereas India has lagged in this respect for a long period resulting in such hazardous levels of air pollution.
BS, which stands for Bharat Stage, is the emission regulation standards maintained in motor vehicles across the nation. Currently, BS-IV standards are followed in the country which will entirely lapse from 1st April 2020 onwards.
In 2016, a three-judge bench passed the verdict which necessitated the adoption of BS-VI standards in all motor vehicles pan-India by 2020. In doing so, the verdict allowed the jump from BS-V norm implementation altogether. It has been done keeping in perspective the state of air pollution in India, which is one of the worst in the world.
BS standards are based on Euro, which is the emission standards adhered across Europe. These standards are upgraded as and when the necessity is felt in regards to air pollution levels.
Why is the Enforcement of BS-VI Norms Delayed?
You must be wondering – “why such late implementation of BS-VI norms when the country is in dire straits concerning air pollution levels?”
It is because, the sudden imposition of such standards on the Indian automobile sector would not allow them considerable time to implement it.
It is not like other laws, which can be announced in one day and followed from the next. The automobile sector needs enough time to conduct their research into how to tweak their existing engines such that it conforms to the new emission standards or develop entirely new engines.
Subsequently, implementing such research into the development of new engines requires considerable time, counted in years. Once research and development are done, automakers need to set up full-scale production of motor vehicles with such engines. These measures will significantly increase the cost of production of motor vehicles in India.
But, how is the automobile sector responding to this change?
The deadline of 1st April 2020 does not see a whole-hearted reception from Indian automakers, and they are showing tremendous concerns regarding it. These concerns come amidst the struggling automobile sector, which has been hit the hardest by the waning Indian economy. To register their plea formally, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has appealed to the Supreme Court. In that appeal, they mentioned the numbers of unsold motor vehicles which have BS-IV standard engines to be 8.24 lakh.
Post 1st April 2020, sale or purchase of these vehicles would be considered illegal. However, individuals who already have purchased BS-IV vehicles by such date can continue using it. (2)
A similar incident occurred in 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled that all motor vehicles need to conform to BS-IV standards by 1st April. In that case, also, scores of vehicles which were BS-III compliant were left unsold due to strict imposition by Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, as of now, the Supreme Court has remained firm with their decision in regards to enforcement of BS-VI norms by 1st April 2020.
Has the Central Government had any Role to Play in the Implementation of BS-VI Norms?
In addition to the aforementioned factors, there was also the necessity of fuel, compliant with BS-VI standardised engines, which caused the delay in implementation. However, the union government has looked after that concern in due time and produced cleaner and BS-VI compliant fuels.
The strictness regarding the deadline further roots from Central’s competence in producing cleaner fuel within time. It has spent Rs. 18000 Crore – Rs. 20000 Crore towards such production. Even though there will be no operational hindrances when using BS-IV compliant fuel in BS-VI standardised engines, air pollution levels will remain higher than is aimed by authorities.
How is BS-VI Different from BS-IV Engines?
As per the Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, air pollution levels will be lowered by 80% - 90% through this transition from BS-IV to BS-VI.
Usage of BS-VI compliant diesel vehicles alone will exponentially mitigate cancer-causing particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10) by 80%. In regards to harmful gases, emissions of Nitrogen oxide (NOx) will be reduced by 70% in BS-VI compliant diesel cars, and by 25% in such petrol cars.
As per reports, NOx omission from BS-VI compliant petrol vehicles has been capped at 60 mg/km in contrast to BS-IV which had a cap of 80 mg/km. In regards to BS-VI compliant diesel vehicles, such emission ceiling would be reduced from 250 mg/km to 80 mg/km.
Additionally, diesel cars with BS-VI standardised engines will emit 170 mg/km of Hydrocarbon (HC) and Nitrogen oxides (NOx) instead of 300 mg/km, which was the case in BS-IV diesel vehicles.
Particulate matter (PM) emissions for both BS-VI compliant diesel and petrol vehicles will be reduced to 4.5 mg/km.
In regards to fuel, one of the key distinctions between BS-VI and BS-IV is the presence of Sulphur molecules. BS-IV fuels possess a concentration of 50 ppm (part per million) sulphur; whereas BS-IV fuels have 10 ppm (part per million) sulphur content. (3)
Hence, even though BS-VI motor vehicles can run on BS-IV fuels, it will not be able to achieve the same level of curtailment of air pollution as expected.
What Does the Transition Mean to Consumers?
As per reports, prices for BS-VI compliant petrol vehicles will increase by Rs. 10,000 – Rs. 20,000 and prices for such diesel cars can be hiked by as much as a few lakh or more.
Hence, you will need to dole out more if you purchase a motor vehicle after 1st April 2020. Several auto manufacturers have already produced BS-VI compliant vehicles, including Maruti Suzuki, Mercedes Benz, etc. In case you want to save on finances, you can consider purchasing a motor vehicle before 1st April 2020.
However, if you are ready to shell out more for the sake of curbing air pollution levels, you can decide to wait out till the BS-VI motor vehicles are available in the market.
What Does this Transition Mean for the Economy?
The Indian economy has been grappling with one of the worst slowdowns in recent times. As per data released by the Indian government, GDP growth rate was noted at 4.5% post the second quarter of Financial Year 2019 – 20 – marking its lowest in 4 years or 26 quarters.
One of the primary reasons for such slowdown is a drop in sales of motor vehicles which has severely impacted the economy. In such, it would be a gargantuan challenge for the automobile sector to sell all the remaining unsold vehicles –96,000 commercial vehicles, approximately 6 lakh two-wheelers and nearly 40,000 three-wheelers – by 1st April 2020.
Hence, it can be expected that the implementation of BS-VI motor vehicles would further affect the waning economy of India. In addition to these, oil refineries would have to make considerable investments towards the production as well as the distribution of such diesel across India. Also, the automobile sector would have to amplify their production of BS-VI compliant vehicles before such deadline, which would be substantially expensive.
In conclusion, the slump in automobile sector might continue for a prolonged period before it attains stability. However, given the life-threatening air pollution levels in different parts of India, it seems a necessary measure, even if it is at the cost of a slump.