[op-ed snap] A drive to clean air

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Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: WHO global air pollution database report, World Economic Forum, FAME scheme

Mains level: Rising air pollution levels across Indian cities and measures to reduce them


Context

WHO air pollution report

  1. The WHO global air pollution database report that ranked 14 Indian cities among the 15 of the world’s most polluted, in terms of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 concentration, received great attention in India
  2. As per a World Economic Forum study, the number of million-plus urban conglomerates in India has increased from 35 in 2001 to 53 in 2011. By 2030, this number is expected to grow to 87
  3. 70 percent to 80 percent of PM 2.5 comes from vehicular emissions, domestic activity, construction activity, industry activity and road dust

Controlling vehicular emissions and domestic activity

  1. Just vehicular pollution contributes around 35 percent of the total PM 2.5 emissions today
  2. In a future with internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles (even post BS VI rollout), urban pollution will continue to remain 25 percent to 30 percent above safe global standards because of the growth in automobiles
  3. For reducing vehicular pollution, already-proposed tighter emission norms (in form of BS VI) need to be combined with a push for shared mobility and public transport and adoption of alternate mobility technologies
  4. Shared mobility can moderate the demand for individual vehicle ownership and usage & technology solutions can allow for a sharp reduction in emissions per vehicle
  5. The movement away from kerosene, coal and wood fires for cooking will have a big impact on domestic activity
  6. We need to speed up the journey towards LPG and solar-powered stoves

Three key policy recommendations

  1. We need to assess and refine the monetary incentives that are offered to bridge the viability gap for electric vehicles for the purpose of containing urban pollution
  • These include upfront subsidies, road/registration tax, reduced taxes, and interest rate subsidy
  • It is imperative for the government to continue the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric (FAME) vehicles programme under the Ministry of Heavy Industry

Non-monetary incentives must go along with subsidies

  • Technology choices should be rewarded with exemption from tolls/taxes, special toll lanes and other preferred access to public infrastructure
  • Norway gives preference to high occupancy vehicles and China gives preferential licence access
  • London imposes congestion charges during working hours on weekdays to vehicles entering the city center

There is also a need to think about improving the provision of non-polluting public transport

  • There is a need to impose restrictions through supply-side regulations on OEMs to increase production of zero-emission vehicles to curb urban pollution
  • These include electric buses, metros, and shared EV fleets to reduce traffic and usage
  • For the alternative mobility technologies to settle, an enabling infrastructure is required
  • There is an early need to standardise charging infrastructure/equipment to ensure interoperability and make it widespread

Way forward

  1. The need to address urban pollution is urgent
  2. India needs to start learning from global examples to push enabling infrastructure
Air Pollution
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