Modelling politics

Politics of fine print - yes, that’s what it is. The kind that crawl in without anybody noticing, but they change everything. The version of Auto Fuel Policy that got the Union Cabinet nod in October 2003 is not the same as the original recommendations.

The original recommendations had planned implementation of the Euro IV standards in 11 cities by 2010. Now, the government has opened even this up for further negotiation. The fine print interwoven within the content of the diluted policy reads, "The schedule for introduction of Euro III equivalent emissions norms in the entire country from April 1, 2010 together with Euro IV equivalent emissions norms in the 11 major cities would be reviewed in the year 2006 after the implementation of Bharat Stage II emissions norms in the entire country from April 1, 2005 and Euro III equivalent norms in major cities."

This is in stark contrast to the recommendation of the committee that advises the Supreme Court on air pollution matters. In its most recent report the committee recommends, "direct the central government to take decision on the implementation of Euro IV standards immediately.

The time frame of 2010 for Euro IV standards as recommended by the Auto Fuel Policy, will not be conducive to healthy environment." We wanted to know what would be the basis of the government's rethink on implementing Euro IV. Real and local data was the official reply. And who will provide this data? The emissions inventory project underway in six cities of India -- sponsored by four oil companies!

Questions are beginning to be raised about the oil industry taking over the regulators’ responsibilities to prepare pollution inventories for policy decisions. In the official committee set up to oversee the project, the role of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the highest apex pollution monitoring body in the country, has been relegated to being mere advisors. This would be unthinkable in any other country where policy tools for regulations lies in the hands of the governing authority.

The attrition of the CPCB's authority needs serious reexamination. More so because the Cabinet-approved version of Auto Fuel Policy has also rejected the original proposal of an independent National Automobile Pollution and Fuel Authority (NAPFA) to take future policy decisions on automobile emissions norms and fuel quality standards. This was trashed on the grounds that such regulatory bodies already exist.

Yet, there is no attempt to strengthen and empower the existing regulatory institutions such as the CPCB. Even its patron ministry –the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) -- empowered to take overriding decisions in pollution control matters under the Environment Protection Act and the Air Act -- is hesitant to take decisions on this matter and remains passive. Unfortunately, till date the MoEF (also the apex official agency for decision-making in all environment related matters) has not taken any decision to initiate composite inventory preparation plans and allocate adequate resources for it.

Since the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had initiated the process of the auto fuel policy, the fingerprints of the oil industry are all over it. This reciprocal arrangement undoubtedly contravenes the impartial formulation of policy and could seriously undermine air quality planning initiatives in the country.

In most countries, emissions inventory and modelling that are used to determine air quality management policies are the direct and complete responsibility of the air quality regulatory authority. An independent and non-partisan functioning is essential to ensure the integrity of the air  quality management process. In India, the inability of the regulatory authorities to develop strict, disciplinary and enforceable policy tools can make air quality planning immensely vulnerable to maneuvering. Pollution loads can be under reported so as to stave off taking tough and immediate decisions.

Earlier in this column, we noted the Auto Fuel Policy's future projections of vehicular pollution loads that justified the postponement of the Euro IV standards in critically polluted cities of India. It proclaimed that if business-as-usual scenario is allowed to continue till 2010 in cities like Delhi, the pollution load due to traffic would remain virtually the same as in the base year, 2000, despite the estimated step up in traffic loads by 50 per cent. Even the studies that were commissioned by the Auto Fuel Policy committee to chart its action plans had drawn flak.

Far-reaching policy conclusions were based on extremely limited and inadequate data. For instance, the emissions inventory study that NEERI conducted in Kanpur city, had even clubbed two different and important sources of pollution together: on-road vehicles with non-road sources (such as diesel generator sets), to estimate pollution load. How can such studies be used to formulate source-specific policy measures!

The stakes are high. We certainly need a review -- to leapfrog, not delay the implementation of Euro IV. If future policy decisions are to be linked to this oil industry-sponsored study, and that too in the absence of any independent official efforts, it is important that the environment ministry steps in immediately to make each stage of this study completely transparent. Make the study design and data accessible to all and solicit feedback from independent agencies at every stage and allow open review.

Even then, the ultimate solution lies in an empowered national regulatory authority for composite air quality planning and effective governance.

-- Anumita Roychowdhury
Right To Clean Air Campaign