Reducing vehicular air pollution in Delhi: Roadmap for the new government

Fleets Zero-emission vehicles
Clean air
Emissions control
Cities India

One of the ten commitments of the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi is to reduce air pollution to a third of current levels. Fulfilling this commitment will take urgent and focused action on reducing air pollution from vehicles specifically. In particular, Mr. Kejriwal’s government needs to deliver on four major fronts if it hopes to fulfill that promise to Delhi voters.

First and foremost, Mr. Kejriwal must be equally committed to delivering on another pledge he has made to the Delhi’s electorate: putting over 11,000 additional buses on Delhi’s roads. Despite that bold promise, so far the AAP government has barely been able to keep the ailing bus fleet from declining in size as older buses go out of service or break down. The task at hand is not merely to deploy new buses, but make significant capacity improvements in bus maintenance, depot upgrades, and route planning.

Second, Delhi should immediately notify the electric vehicle policy it approved at the end of last year and constitute a state EV board. The board itself should be directly overseen by the office of the Chief Minister, even if the day-to-day implementation of EV policy is carried out from an EV cell in the Transport Department. Moreover, the promised state EV fund–to be consolidated from various sources of revenue, such as the pollution cess, road tax, and the environment compensation charge (ECC)—should be established within the first 100 days of the new government. Until the state EV fund becomes operational, the variety of promising fiscal incentives offered in the Delhi EV policy will exist only on paper. A fixed percentage of the fund should be set aside for Delhi bus electrification program and used to develop and implement a fleet-wide electrification strategy. A portion of the fund should also be set aside for a brand-neutral, joint public-private consumer-awareness program. Updating the building code to require new residential and commercial properties to be EV ready, and walking the talk by leasing/hiring electric-only vehicles for the Delhi Government, are two additional steps that should be taken within the first year of the new government.

While upgrading the bus fleet and implementing EV policy are the two most important priorities, delivering on the two-thirds cut in pollution will require focused attention on existing vehicles and mobility infrastructure as well.

With BS VI standards going into effect from April 2020, attention must now turn to identifying and improving emissions performance of existing vehicles, and to developing an effective strategy for retiring older vehicles. Delhi has been asked by the Supreme Court to implement a real-world emissions monitoring system enabled by remote sensing. Effective deployment of such a system can identify vehicles whose emissions appear excessive, send warnings to vehicle owners, and automatically issue an e-challan to the worst emitters. Delhi should also double the ECC on vehicles found to be gross polluters.

On the vehicle retirement front, Delhi issued guidelines for scrapping motor vehicles in 2018. Delhi EV policy also includes a small scrapping incentive for two-wheelers. What is needed urgently is an effective training and upgrade program for existing scrapping facilities so that vehicles of all types can be dismantled and recycled in an environmentally safe manner. Delhi also needs to establish a battery deposit fee for all new vehicles that is refunded upon depositing used batteries with the designated battery recycling agencies.

Establishing a low- or zero-emission zone with preferential access to electric vehicles is a strategy used effectively by cities ranging from London to Beijing. The ECC has already established a principle of charging for entry into urban areas based on vehicle emission levels. Delhi needs to consider the establishment of a low-emission zone, or even a zero-emission zone, where only pedestrians, bicyclists, and electric vehicles are allowed.

Delivering on the AAP’s promise to reduce air pollution in Delhi will have enormous positive public health benefits, including thousands of lives saved each year. This agenda for dramatically lowering air pollution from vehicles is broad and ambitious, but the rewards will be well worth the effort!

Anup Bandivadekar is Passenger Vehicle Program Director at the International Council on Clean Transportation.