Car companies are aggressive about diesel cars. Consider a recent advertisement. It says: "You start saving even before you start driving". Thats not true (see: p 78). Whats true is that all carmakers take drastic advantage of governments policy to keep diesel prices low. Worse, companies can get away with the white lies they put out in their ads: Government is least concerned. It plays along, allowing auto companies to dangle the bait of petty savings, at an enormous cost to public health.
Foreseeing future trouble, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had campaigned to have private diesel cars banned in Delhi, way back in 1999. Deadly facts about diesel toxicity and health effects were beginning to pour in from other parts of the world. A big finding: diesel fumes consisted of 10-100 times more particles than petrol exhaust, and were several times more toxic. At the same time, car fleets in Indian cities were beginning to dieselise at breakneck speed; the direct subsidy on diesel had been dismantled, and petrol attracted higher taxes. Public health, impacted by diesel quality standards languishing at Euro 0 level, didnt matter; a cheap run for profit did. Subsequently, public transport has moved to CNG under Supreme Court direction, to cut down on toxic particulate emissions. But private luxury cars are swelling. Even now, the country has no roadmap for clean diesel technology (see: p70-71).
The Supreme Court clamped down on dieselisation in April 1999. In just a month, the automobile industry had to meet Euro I standards (put into force in Europe in 1992, it was officially to be enforced in India in 2000) and nine months to meet Euro II standards (enforced in Europe in 1996; the Indian government wanted to enforce in 2005, but brought it forward in Delhi, under pressure). Refineries had to fall in line and provide matching fuel. Kicking and screaming, an unwilling government and industry had to ensure Delhi met Euro II standards; this paved the way for Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
It is one thing to apply standards that lag behind time and so claim that cars are clean. Fact is, scientific evidence now shows that small improvements in diesel technology and fuel quality do not address the toxic threat from diesel particulate adequately at all. Bad news for Indian cities, already reeling under a disastrous load of particulate matter, as recently released Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data on PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 micron) for 29 cities shows.
In August 2003, CSE drew the attention of the Supreme Court to this issue during an ongoing public litigation on air pollution in Delhi. The bench immediately broadened the ambit of the case to include other cities, including Chennai Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Solapur, Lucknow, Hyderabad and Bangalore. It gave a two-month ultimatum to the union government, and respective state governments, to draw up a definite plan of action to lower particulate pollution in these cities. (See graph: Its still high). But state governments do not possess the means to improve upon the roadmap for fuel quality and vehicle technology the Centre has imposed upon them. Moreover, diesel consumption shows no signs of abating. Indias cities are hurtling towards a public health catastrophe.
Delhi mirrors this national
The picture is similar all over India. The first ten months of this fiscal year saw a 33 per cent growth in diesel car sales over the previous period: And whats worse, now the small and medium car segments are also getting dieselised.
Diesels become a
The move to tax CNG, and so narrow the price gap between it and diesel, directly contravenes Supreme Court directives. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) the committee advising the Court in the ongoing case has examined tax policies in other countries. Worldwide, tax instruments are effectively used to promote cleaner fuels. So, EPCA has recommended that the Indian government must also frame a fiscal policy to allow for price competitiveness for environmentally acceptable fuels and maintain an effective price differential between CNG and diesel prices. Delhis government could apply the polluter pays principle. It could also calculate and find that if it brings the sales tax on diesel at par with, say, Mumbais rates, then it could net in as much as Rs 700 crore per year. The revenue earned could easily cover up the loss of revenue due to the sales tax waiver on CNG, and other clean fuels. But is this government interested in controlling dieselisation?
No. Neither is industry
New strategies are redefining the diesel car market. See, for instance, what Skoda India has done. Their entry into the Indian market was unique: contrary to trends, the price of the petrol version and the diesel version was the same. Consider the effect of such a strategy on the consumer, who would now naturally be inclined to go for the latter. Indeed, companies are not chary of even reversing the trend: among Tata Safaris top end models, the price of the petrol versions are higher than the diesel ones (See timeline: Diesel car models since 1998). Customers, understandably, are spoilt for choice.
Indeed, dieselisation is worsening. Some of the largest carmakers, that had hitherto stayed away from diesel versions, are now preparing to aggressively enter the diesel market. Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL) is setting up a diesel engine assembly plant at Gurgaon near Delhi. Diesel cars are about 5 per cent of the total MUL production and MUL currently imports its diesel engines. Hyundai Motor India Ltd is all poised to roll out a diesel version of one of its most popular model, the Santro. The Indian unit of Italys Fiat Auto Spa also plans to introduce a new diesel Sedan in April 2004: apparently, the diesel Sedan will be powered by the same 1.9 litre engine that powers its flagship Palio hatchback and the Adventure estate and will be called the Petra.
Going by the plans Indian automobile manufacturers are gleefully hatching, the future looks bleakly dieselised. Let us understand that in India, the quality of diesel used is extremely poor. Moreover, the Indian government is not interested in providing cleaner diesel. In such a scenario, the effect more diesel cars on Indian roads are going to have is absolutely disastrous.