Time to clean air, junk dirty fuels
What India has failed to do, Sri Lanka has done – meet people’s aspirations for cars without damaging the environment much – with astonishing results.
Silence introduced a new differentiated tax regime for imported vehicles this year with just 50% duty on hybrid vehicles and up to 450% on vehicles running on climate change causing fossil fuel driven vehicles.
Between January and May 2011, Sri Lanka saved 5.36 crore liters of petrol and diesel because of increase in sale of hybrid vehicles, which cost almost same as conventional vehicles there. In India, hybrid cars cost 70 to 100% more than fossil fuel driven vehicles, an apparent reason for Honda to withdraw its hybrid car in 2010.
Sri Lankan story appears great for India to emulate but the ground realities in two countries differ a lot. Sri Lanka does not have a financially powered automobile lobby, which Indian government finds difficult to counter.
For its vehicles, Sri Lanka is totally import dependant whereas majority of vehicles sold in India are domestically produced. Another fact – annual growth rate of auto sales of about 15% – gives an added vantage point for the auto sector to hackle the government on pursuing environment friendly taxation policy.
The predicament of the Indian government is obvious with its failure to come out with auto fuel economy norms for cars even four years after the process was initiated. The reason, which the government officials candidly admit, is resistance of the automobile sector to agree to norms similar to one in Europe and America.
The government wants the auto industry to improve car fuel efficiency by about 18% of the present level by 2015 norm but the automobile sector is adamant on single digit efficiency improvement. As a result, the draft guidelines on fuel economy norms are stuck since May 2011.
In the past, the auto industry had resisted higher taxation on more polluting diesel vehicles, which are selling like hot cake because of Rs 25 price difference between petrol and diesel. Delhi government after making an announcement in its budget in April of higher road tax for diesel vehicles notified the change only on Wednesday.
Laxity on part of the government to invoke tough regulations to check rising toxic emissions from vehicles had shown its health impact.
A recent study by US based Health Effects Institute in Delhi indicated that at least 3,000 people die every year because of exposure to air pollution and 55% of Delhiwallas reside in high toxic zone. The air quality of close to half of Indian cities is now critically polluted because of high particulate matter emissions resulting from vehicle emissions, says Central Pollution Control Board air ambient quality data for 2009.
Anumita Roy Chowdhury of NGO Centre for Science and Environment says there is enough evidence available for the government to act. To me, there is a need to strike a balance between people’s aspirations and need for good health environment or else, the future of coming generations would be doomed.
For that, the government needs to take innovate measures, which could be harsh and politically inconvenient. Sri Lanka has presented a workable model but India can adopt from a package of success stories which includes high parking fee for driving into congested central London, limiting number of cars a family can buy and highly incentivised public transport system. The 12th five year plan, under preparation, is a fantastic opportunity for the government to act.