The central government this week advanced the deadline for introducing the clean Bharat Stage VI fuel in Delhi by two years to April 2018. But it does not appear as eager to usher in cleaner cars.

BS VI fuel, as it is commonly known, refers to the least polluting petrol and diesel available in the world, and the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had asked for it to be introduced by April 2020. The authority’s Comprehensive Action Plan, 2017 – a long-term strategy to control pollution in the National Capital Region – also calls for ensuring that only BS VI compliant vehicles are registered from April 1, 2020. But the government is not keen.

“While EPCA insists the deadline should be for restricting registration of BS VI non-compliant vehicles, the Centre has argued it should be made applicable to manufacture, not registration,” a senior scientist with the pollution control authority explained.

Simply put, the government wants to allow people to buy and register BS VI non-compliant vehicles even after April 1, 2020 as long as they are manufactured before the deadline. But this, the scientist pointed out, could encourage carmakers to overproduce non-compliant vehicles in the months before the deadline, thus undermining the policy.

The question of whether the government must restrict only the manufacture of non-compliant vehicles from April 2020 or their registration as well is now before the Supreme Court, which is set to hear it on December 4.

“We welcome the Centre’s announcement on BS VI fuel,” said Bhure Lal, chairman of the pollution control authority. “For final decision on the deadline for registration of vehicles with regard to BS VI standards, we shall wait for the Supreme Court’s order.”

The 15-member authority was formed by the Supreme Court in 1998 and is reconstituted from time to time.

India currently follows BS IV emission standards, adopted in April this year. It was supposed to transition, via BS V, to BS VI standards in 2024. However, in January 2016, soon after the Paris Agreement on climate change, the government decided to leapfrog to BS VI standards in 2020, skipping BS V.

Sticking point

Another bone of contention in the Comprehensive Action Plan is regarding dieselisation. To disincentivise the use of the more polluting diesel over petrol, the pollution control authority has recommended imposing an “environment protection charge” on diesel vehicles with 2,000 cc engines and above. This is opposed by one of the authority’s own members. Vishnu Mathur, who is also director general of the lobby group Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, has argued that diesel vehicles cannot be subjected to further penalties when they are already more regulated – apparently a reference to the National Green Tribunal’s ban on diesel vehicles older than 10 years in the National Capital Region. The ban was imposed in July 2016 and this September, the tribunal dismissed the Centre’s plea to lift it.

“We later asked the Centre to draft a proactive policy on use of diesel,” the senior scientist said. “But there has been resistance on their part and so far they have not come up with the draft as such.”

Questions about why the government was advancing the deadline for introducing BS VI fuel in Delhi but moving slowly on vehicle registration and dieselisation emailed to three Union ministries – Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Petroleum and Natural Gas; Road Transport and Highways – went unanswered.