A plan for Bharat II and earlier as well

Almost a year ago, I posted an item here in which I argued that India should take a more aggressive, state-wise approach to expanding Bharat Stage (BS) IV fuel quality and vehicle emission standards. The good news now is that, thanks to the 2013 Auto Fuel Policy Committee, nationwide implementation of BS IV is no longer a distant dream (though I’m not sure how influential my blog was). In fact, the discussion now includes eventual implementation of BS V and VI. Though the exact implementation dates for these standards have not yet been set, it seems likely that India will achieve BS VI standards in the early years of the next decade.

But many people correctly point out that it’s the older vehicles that account for a disproportionate share of vehicle emissions. Progressively tighter emission standards will have a positive effect in the long run, as cleaner new vehicles gradually replace older ones, but there have to be incentives to get these old jalopies off the road. This point can been seen in the figures below, which show modeled particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions in India, broken down into three categories: pre–2003 vehicles (mostly pre-BS II), 2003–2010 vehicles (BS II, BS III, and some BS IV), and post–2010 vehicles (BS III and BS IV). The bars hanging down from the tops of each chart show vehicle stock in the same way. In the year 2010, for example, the charts show that pre–2003 vehicles accounted for just 23% of vehicles on the road, but emitted 40% of all NOx and 54% of all PM.

PM versus vehicle stock, India
NOx versus vehicle stock, India

To tackle the problem of high-emitting older vehicles, a number of regions around the globe have experimented with scrappage and retrofit programs. Some have had tremendous success (the state of California in the United States is a great example [pdf]), but these programs are expensive and often place a large burden on individuals and small businesses. India should develop a feasible scrappage or retrofit program of its own, but until this happens, a simpler approach might begin the process of discouraging the continued use of older vehicles.

In India’s eleven biggest cities, Bharat II vehicles have been sold for more than a decade now. Nationwide, BS II vehicles have been sold since 2005. BS II vehicles emit twice as much NOx and up to seven times as much PM as BS IV vehicles. Even before more advanced new vehicle emission standards come into place, replacing BS II vehicles with BS IV vehicles can dramatically reduce emissions.

One action India can take to incentivize this is to mandate a surcharge on insurance premiums for BS II and earlier vehicles. Insurance costs decrease with age, as the value of the vehicle depreciates, but this does not take into account the environmental and public health costs of an older vehicle. Mandating an insurance surcharge can help offset these costs and incentivize individuals and businesses to replace their BS II and earlier vehicles with new ones.

Another action could be to require BS II and earlier vehicles to undergo more frequent fitness tests and PUC checks. This would be a minor nuisance for vehicle owners, but it would help ensure that older vehicles are, in fact, being properly maintained and not emitting more than they were originally designed to.

Lastly, high registration fees for older vehicles can also help. This doesn’t have to be based on a vehicle’s emission standard. Instead, the government can increase registration fees with age, as Japan does, or mandate that all vehicles older than 15 years pay a registration surcharge. For private vehicles, which are required to be re-registered 15 years after their initial sale, such a policy could work well. Instead of paying a high registration fee, a car owner might choose to buy a new car.

I should stress that the measures described above can only begin to tackle the problem of high emissions from older vehicles. Other actions—such as scrappage or retrofit programs and enhanced in-use emissions compliance programs—are not only necessary, but would also complement the above measures. Additionally, action targeting older in-use vehicles should not be used as an excuse to ignore tighter emission standards for new vehicles. The charts above show that if no action is taken on this front, vehicle emissions will skyrocket in the future. BS VI vehicles would reduce NOx and PM emissions by up to 80% below BS IV vehicles. Perhaps in 15 years time the BS IV vehicles India is selling today will be seen as the polluting old jalopies that need to be taken off the road.