Delhi to get BS-VI fuel two years early to tackle pollution

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New Delhi: The world’s cleanest fuel will be introduced in the national capital two years earlier than planned, the Union government said on Wednesday as it seeks to reduce vehicular pollution.

Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) fuel will now be available with effect from 1 April 2018 in Delhi, the petroleum ministry said, and added that it is examining the possibility of introducing BS-VI fuel across the national capital region by 1 April 2019.

Not only has the petroleum ministry committed to state-of-the-art technology, it is also making a political statement on tackling pollution—especially given that the Delhi government has come up short on solutions to tackle the problem.

“Taking into account the serious pollution levels in Delhi and adjoining areas, Petroleum Ministry in consultation with Public Oil Marketing Companies has decided for preponement of BS-VI grade auto fuels in NCT (National Capital Territory) of Delhi w.e.f 01.04.2018 instead of 01.04.2020. OMCs have also been asked to examine the possibility of introduction of BS-VI auto fuels in the whole of NCR area w.e.f 01.04.2019,” the ministry said in a statement. “This measure is expected to help mitigate the problem of air pollution in NCT of Delhi and surrounding areas,” it added.

In January last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance decided to move the country up to BS-VI from the current BS-IV standards by 2020, skipping an intermediate level.

Delhi’s air quality reached hazardous levels last week, prompting the state government to contemplate enforcing an odd-even scheme under which vehicles with licence plates ending in odd and even numbers would ply on the roads on alternate days.

A 2016 report by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, showed that cars and jeeps emit less than 10% of particulate matter, while trucks are the bigger culprits. A big contributor to Delhi’s air pollution is road dust, which accounts for about 35% of tiny particles known as PM 2.5 in the air, followed by vehicles at 25%. Other contributors are domestic cooking, power plants and industries.

PM 2.5 are tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated. Seattle-based Global Burden of Disease Study estimates that 586,787 premature deaths in India were attributable to fine particulate matter pollution in 2013. NOx, or oxides of nitrogen, are also major pollutants. They are a family of poisonous, highly reactive gases that form when fuel is burned at high temperatures.

According to a top executive at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd, there will be “marginal improvement” in the emission of particulates if the current set of vehicles run on BS-VI fuel as any low-level emission control device with higher level fuel results in improvement in particulate emission.

“A BS-VI engine can only operate on BS-VI fuel. If you allow BS-VI engine to operate on BS-IV fuel then the engine will get damaged. If you allow a BS-IV engine to operate on BS-VI fuel, the benefit of reduced pollution will largely be lost,” said Shekar Viswanathan, vice-chairman at Toyota Kirloskar.

Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said that with cleaner fuel, emission control systems in the existing fleet will also perform more optimally to control emissions. “It’s tough to say how much difference it would make. But overall there will be reduction in emissions. For the auto industry, the sign on the wall is very clear,” Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, CSE.

To be sure, the government statement does not say that automakers will have to start selling BS-VI vehicles in the city. “We are already working on a stretched deadline to launch BS-VI vehicles by April 2020..,” said Pawan Goenka, managing director at Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. “I don’t foresee any main line player with multiple models being able to launch complete portfolio of BS-VI compliant vehicles by April 2018,” he added.

Oil marketing companies are confident that they shall be able to provide BS-VI fuel in Delhi.

“The National Capital Region has always received priority in introduction of new grades of fuel including low-lead, no-lead and BS-IV grade fuels. Indian Oil Corp. Ltd has already supplied BS-VI standard auto fuel from its refineries at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh and Panipat in Haryana to automobile companies for testing purposes,” said an official from the state-owned refiner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.