Choking in Polluted Air, Delhi Bans Old Vehicles

By Devinder Sharma

NEW DELHI, India, September 25, 2000 (ENS) - Concerned by the rising levels of air pollution in India's capital city, the Delhi government has decided to ban the driving of commercial transport vehicles, which are older than 12 years and two-wheelers older than 15 years.

The ban, announced Wednesday, comes into effect from January 1, 2001. It follows an earlier Supreme Court directive which removed buses older than eight years old and auto-rickshaws more than ten years old from the choked city.


Traffic on a Delhi street. (Photo courtesy Human Settlements Development Programme, Asian Institute of Technology)
Delhi is the most polluted city in India, and is rated as the fourth most polluted city in the world.

The government's decision is expected to help clean Delhiís polluted air, but it has evoked mixed response. While the environmentalists are happy with the decision to phase-out two wheelers, the owners are upset. Owners of old, yet non-polluting vehicles have questioned the ruling. "Other than scrap dealers, who will buy my scooter now," one owner asks.

Questions another, "Why canít the government target the gas-guzzling private cars? Why target only the lower middle class?"

Delhiís Transport Minister Parvez Hashmi said this is the first time the government has turned its focus towards polluting private vehicles. So far, only commercial vehicles were being phased out to check air pollution.

Affirming his governmentís intention to control vehicular pollution, Hashmi added that a similar restriction on private cars will soon follow. "We think only a few thousand private cars will need to be phased out. And this will also include cars of vintage make."


Delhi Transport Minister Parvez Hashmi (Photo courtesy Government of Delhi)
Welcoming the decision, the Central Pollution Control Board chairman Dilip Biswas says, "The need of the hour is to enforce vehicular norms in the city as strictly as possible. Otherwise, with the number of vehicles crowding Delhiís roads being more than the combined vehicle population of the other three metropolitan cities - Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta, there is only one direction in which vehicular pollution in the city can go - up and up."

"Of the three million vehicles registered in Delhi," explains Biswas, "nearly two million are two-wheelers. And because of their two stroke engines, these are today amongst the most polluting vehicles on the road."

Studies have shown that most scooter engines do not burn the petrol efficiently and instead release a considerable part of the fuel into the atmosphere without using it. In any case, the old two-stroke engines are often over used and technologically ancient and inferior, adding greatly to the hydrocarbon levels in the air.

Elaborating on how exactly the new rules will be enforced, a senior official from the Delhi governmentís environment department says, "While Euro-II norms will be made compulsory for all vehicles entering Delhi, including heavy vehicles, permissible limit for two-wheelers will be made more stringent than before." As of now, Euro-II norms are only applicable for new cars.


Traffic in Delhi (Photo courtesy Indian Institute of Technology)
Many environmentalists fear that the new set of rules has given the city police more power to crack down. With heavy vehicles and private commercial vehicles already an easy target for illegal weekly collections - popularly called "hafta," it will now be the turn of thousands of two-wheelers to face the music.

If only the existing rules were strictly implemented, much of the air pollution problem would have been solved, environmentalists maintain.

The new rules are expected to bring relief to the average citizen of Delhi, already alternating between chokes and gasps in the polluted air.

Still, the city's air quality is not as bad as it once was. In the past few years the ambient air quality has improved following a series of measures that included the adoption of compressed natural gas as fuel and a rule that the gas stations must sell only lead free petrol.

In addition, the government has decided to register from the next year only those vehicles, which comply with the Euro-II emission standards.