By Varadraj Zamindar and Armin Rosencranz
The banning of old cars is becoming the most preferred way for judicial bodies to fight pollution. 10 year old diesel cars in Delhi and all diesel cars above the capacity of 2000cc have been banned by the National Green Tribunal. Kerela’s National Green Tribunal has prescribed the same ban.
The Courts have implemented these orders without examining the actual impact on environmental pollution. It is speculated that the banning of diesel cars, instead of producing a positive effect on pollution levels, may in fact have an opposite effect.
The creation of a vehicle requires energy, production of which results in various amounts of pollution. Banning and scrapping of vehicles will lead to destruction of many well maintained efficient vehicles. We contend that an ill maintained vehicle less than 10 years old can pollute much more than a well maintained 10 year old vehicle.
The arbitrary banning of cars above 2000cc is being used to address environmental pollution by National Green Tribunals in States other than Delhi. A large seating capacity vehicle, like a 7 seating vehicle, will need an engine above 2000cc to propel itself. A smaller engine will only get choked and release more pollutants than the larger engine. The courts counter this by pointing towards alternative fuel vehicles, but decision makers forget to analyse that these are more energy intensive to build, which results in considerably more harmful emissions in manufacturing than normal vehicles.
As for electric vehicles, the manufacturing emissions of the batteries themselves are more than the vehicle can counter by saving on fossil fuels. The adoption of these vehicles is also a problem since the government has already imposed high duties on the import of cars, including alternative fuel vehicles. Most people cannot afford new efficient vehicles to replace their older cars, so the ban disproportionately harms lower income groups
The ‘ten-years-old’ and ‘diesel fuel’ ban are regressive steps towards the ‘Make in India’ campaign. Automotive giants have already started rethinking investing in India with official announcements from Mercedes and Toyota to reconsider any further investments in India as the National Green Tribunal seeks to extend this ban to more cities on its next hearing.
Since the core engines in most car models remain similar over the lifetime of that model, older cars should be modernised and fitted with newer technologies that will make them more efficient without the need to dispose of the whole vehicle. Advances in internal combustion engine technologies in recent years can be incorporated in older engines as well to make them more efficient. Most of the vehicles today are platform and engine shared. Engines like Fiat’s 1.3L MultiJet engine is shared by 18 cars; technological advancements in this engine can be incorporated into all the engine shared cars. In this scenario it is advisable to modernise the already running vehicles with newer technologies like stop-start systems, injection technologies or forced induction to make them more efficient rather than spending energy on their destruction which causes further pollution. The government should incentivise modernization as there are many technologies that are easy to incorporate into older vehicles and have stricter vehicle check mechanisms in place that ensure that vehicles are well maintained and running efficiently. The government can also promote electrification of old vehicles if the engine is too old to be modernised. This would be efficient as it will not waste energy on construction of an all new vehicle but will utilise a donor vehicle that was supposed to be destroyed.
The Courts also err in assuming that all vehicles above 2000cc pollute more than smaller engine capacity vehicles. The courts measure pollution on CO2 emission levels, which are not directly correlated with the cubic capacity of an engine. A Jaguar 2.0 XE has lower emissions than a Renault Duster 1.5 dCi.
The Regional Motor Authorities should be willing to accommodate people modernising their vehicles as the Motor Vehicles Act is rigid when it comes to a change or modification in the mode of propulsion.
Banning of vehicles is a stop gap measure that will not work in the long run.
The courts should reconsider these bans and look for more practical solutions like modernising or electrifying old vehicles. Most old vehicles will conform to the latest pollution standards with modernisation. The ban is also acting as a deterrent for major automobile manufacturers to invest in India. The ban will result in destruction of many good vehicles which is inefficient, both economically and environmentally.
Armin Rosencranz is a lawyer and political scientist. He is the founder of Pacific Environment, an international environmental NGO. He was formerly a trustee at Stanford University. Varadraj Zamindar is a recent graduate of Jindal Global Law School, where Armin Rosencranz is a professor of law.