Press release

Clearing the air in India

Rapid adoption of ultra-low sulphur fuels and BS VI vehicle emission standards would dramatically improve India’s air quality to the benefit of public health

Policy action is urgently needed to control vehicular pollution that now causes nearly 40,000 premature deaths each year.

As India celebrates another Diwali, the haze and air pollution in towns and cities across the country comes not only from the firecrackers, but also from the increasing number of vehicles on the road. Diwali will soon be over, but the vehicular air pollution will continue to increase by the day unless the national government moves aggressively to reverse that trend.

When the Auto Fuel Vision and Policy expert committee now conferring in Delhi delivers its roadmap for national fuel quality and vehicle emissions standards next month, it will arrive with India at a crossroads. One path points toward immediate action to rapidly match the best practices demonstrated in the world’s other leading vehicle markets. The other, which India has been on for the last few years, continues a slow decline, falling further behind the international pace-setters as the nation’s air-pollution problems worsen and oil imports rise. At stake in the choice of which road to follow are tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, and thousands of crores of rupees in economic benefits derived from a healthier, more productive population.

That is the overarching message of a report released today by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). A comprehensive survey of past, present, and potential future vehicle emissions control program, the report sets India’s policy options in the context of international experience and assesses technology costs versus health and economic benefits under several scenarios.

“Our study suggests strongly not just that India can afford ambitious policies on clean vehicles and fuels, but that it can ill afford not to pursue such policies,” said Anup Bandivadekar, program director at the ICCT and one of the report’s coauthors. “The costs of delay are very high. We’re confident the Auto Fuel Policy committee understands the urgent need to chart a course now that will put India on par with international standards by 2020.”

Since 2003, when the last Auto Fuel Policy was adopted under the leadership of Dr. R A Mashelkar, India’s vehicle population has nearly tripled, reaching 130 million in 2013. It is on track to reach 250 million by 2025. The standards and controls drafted by the Mashelkar committee and implemented under the 2003 auto fuel policy successfully reduced per vehicle emissions, and overall pollutant emissions from India’s vehicle fleet have fallen or at least slowed as well. But those gains are eroding. The ICCT analysis found that particulate emissions (PM) from vehicles, which have declined since 2003 but nevertheless cause some 40,000 premature deaths each year in Indian cities alone, will return to 2003 levels within five years if new controls are not mandated. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which indirectly cause and exacerbate cardiopulmonary illnesses, have continued to rise over the past decade, and the rate of increase is accelerating. “Outdoor air pollution has become the fifth largest killer in India. The ICCT study shows that vehicular emissions can be controlled substantially by early introduction of stricter standards, meaning BS-V and BS-VI, the health benefits of which far outweigh the costs”. said Sumit Sharma, Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi.

Numerous factors influence trends in pollution from the transportation sector and associated health impacts. The existence of parallel standards, one for major cities and another, less stringent, for the rest of the country, has undermined efforts to address urban air quality problems and weakened the integrity of overall policy. A lack of effective inspection and maintenance programs, and of in-use compliance testing, undercuts new-vehicle emissions standards over time. Inadequate registration data complicates efforts to regulate the vehicle fleet. The steady growth in passenger car market share of diesel vehicles drives increases in PM and NOx emissions.

But, as the ICCT study makes clear, two factors overshadow all others: fuel sulphur content limits and vehicle emissions standards. The high sulphur content of diesel fuel and petrol in India—up to 350 parts per million (ppm) for diesel, and 150 ppm for petrol—makes for higher particulate emissions while at the same time inhibiting the use of advanced aftertreatment devices, which require low-sulphur fuel to be fully effective. And the vehicle emissions standards now in place (Bharat IV in major cities, Bharat III elsewhere), patterned after European Union regulations, permit much higher PM and NOx emissions than current EU rules allow. “India needs to limit fuel sulphur content to 10 parts per million, and implement Bharat VI emissions standards nationwide well before the end of this decade,” said the ICCT’s Gaurav Bansal, the study’s other coauthor. “That’s the most important conclusion to draw from this analysis. We need to close the gap on clean vehicles and fuels between India and Europe.”

Download the ICCT report, along with a brief summary and fact sheet, at

In January 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) created an expert committee on “Auto Fuel Vision and Policy—2025” under the chairmanship of Dr. Saumitra Chaudhuri of the Planning Commission. The committee is charged with establishing a roadmap for fuel quality and vehicle emission standards through 2025. The committee can also make recommendations regarding emission control measures from in-use vehicles, fiscal measures for upgrading oil refineries, and the deployment of alternative fuels. The Chaudhuri committee is the successor to the Mashelkar committee that in 2002 set forth a similar policy roadmap up to 2010.

For more information and additional publications on Indian clean transportation policy, visit

Contacts: Anup Bandivadekar, Program Director/India team lead; Gaurav Bansal, Researcher

Clean air