Why Himachal must act now to cut down diesel emissions

SHIMLA- After a story published in HW on unchecked, rising vehicular pollution in Shimla, the Transport Minister of Himachal Pradesh GS Bali had assured action to control the situation in a month.

We aren’t sure if it was only a reply or the minister really meant it. He has shown active presence on social media recently where the transport minister attends grievance, complaints, and issues raised by citizens. In the history of Indian government, law makers are rarely comfortable talking about alarming rise in emissions. We’ve heard long speeches, but rarely seen action towards a permanent solution. We hope that Mr. GS Bali won’t disappoint the people of Himachal. For now, let’s concentrate on issue of the vehicular emissions from diesel exhausts that are just getting worse by the day.

There are some crucial facts that each one of us must know about the most toxic fuel – diesel. Before reading about the facts, take a look at some video clips recorded this week. The clips reveal shocking state of diesel emission through vehicular exhaust in Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradesh.

It’s a great mistake for a state like Himachal to ignore such critical issue. Himachal is dependent on tourism, which is its second largest industry. Himachal used to be a heaven – a gift of nature. However, what happened in Rohtang-Pass is just a little trailer of ecological disaster that awaits Himachal.

From past few years, the air quality of most towns in Himachal has begun to degrade at a rapid rate. Shimla is worst hit. The purchasing power of people is increasing, they are able to own vehicles, and that has led to overcrowding and burden on Himachal’s insufficient transportation infrastructure. This year, the tourist influx is high after J&K floods and Nepal quake. The tourists were diverted to Himachal. But the government did not prepare for it.

To help you better understand the scenario in Himachal, let’s take you through some facts about what’s going on in Delhi – world’s most polluted city according to this years ranking.

Why National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned old diesel vehicles in Delhi?

Delhi ended up first in the list of world’s most polluted cities. That made headlines worldwide. The world was stunned and concerned about poor Indians, but the people and the government didn’t get even a single clue about the severity of the situation.

Delhi air pollution

The vehicular pollution reached such alarming levels in Delhi that NGT had to order ban plying of vehicles olde than 10 years. That’s what China had done to cut pollution in Beijing too. The idea isn’t just to cut diesel emission but to discourage consumers from buying diesel vehicles. The ban reduced the sale of diesel cars by 33% in one year. The real motive is to motivate people to use petrol vehicles and compel car makers to cut down production of diesel versions. It’s, indeed working for Delhi. The ratio of diesel and petrol was around 70:30 earlier, which is now 50:50. That means now petrol and diesel vehicle sales are equal.

NGT is concerned about air pollution, but more than that, it’s scared of World Health Organisation’s recent finding regarding toxicity of diesel emissions.

In June 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a wing of World Health Organizaiton (WHO) officially labeled diesel exhaust as highly carcinogenic (causing cancer). WHO had declared that fine particulate found in diesel exhaust were a definite cause of lung cancer and tumors in bladder.

What are PM 2.5 particles and why they are lethal?

Air pollution Himachal

These particles are less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5). The particles are so fine that they easily enter and lodge deep inside lungs and blood tissues.

The density of highly toxic 2.5 PM particulate matter is very high in diesel exhaust. That is the reason two out of every five children in Delhi were found to be suffering from some kind of respiratory or lung diseases. Majority of traffic policemen in Delhi did not pass the lung capacity test. Does Himachal wish to end up like Delhi?

International organization and researchers on diesel exhaust

According to the Lancet’s Global Health Burden 2013, air pollution is the six biggest cause of deaths in India.

It was a misconception that diesel is more eco-friendly because it emits less CO2 and delivers higher fuel-economy.

In the same year, the UN health agency classified diesel exhaust as crucial cause of cancer and lethal respiratory and lung diseases.

A news release by UN said:

The IARC working group reviewed the evidence and, overall, it concluded that there was sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust. In particular, it found that there was sufficient evidence to determine that diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer, and noted that there a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

How we can save Himachal?

Himachal needs to wake up and take immediate measures to control diesel emission and air pollution in general. First of all, Himachal needs to limit the number of diesel-guzzling cars, carriage vehicles, SUVs, transport and goods carriage like trucks.

Diesel as a fuel for vehicles is entangled with economy of the state and livelihood of its people. Therefore, the state can’t reform it without the will of centre government.

Public transport needs to be revamped to improve efficiency and service, impose annual road taxes, improve fuel quality, encourage vehicles with enhanced and upgraded automotive technology, and try to introduce alternative fuels such as CNG and electric motors, at least in plain regions of Himachal.

Himachal will have to implement stringent emission control guidelines. The Centre Govt. must be reminded to be at par with developed nations like United States and European Union countries in terms of air quality and emission standards. The pollution in India is predicted to grow fivefold by 2030, so India needs to act fast.

Himachal must pressurize the centre government to invest and promote generation of renewable energy with every possible method like solar panels and wind turbines. Hydropower projects are already there, rather, way too many, which are troubling the ecology.

The car makers must be encouraged to fit diesel models with particulate filters to bring them within norms.

Another major concern for Indian government must be to upgrade fuel quality standards. India must shift to emission VI standards as rest of the world is doing.

Further, the gap between diesel and patrol prices has become quite narrow. Commenting on the need of change in diesel policy, Vivek Chattopadhyay, Senior Campaign Program Manager, Centre for Science and Environment, said:

The pricing of diesel is still distorted because of a tax structure that favours diesel truck owners and agriculture. Farmers using diesel for cheap are a big vote bank and politicians have been wary of letting the price rise to the real market level.

HP Govt. needs to work on huge lack of public awareness?

People consider air pollution or emissions as a regular business. Himachal Pradesh government and people are aware of the terms air pollution but they aren’t able to associate it with their daily lives and ecological and health hazards. So far, people have failed to realize that the nature and ecology are in danger because no immediate side-effects of air pollution are visible. HW has published many stories regarding deforestation, vehicular pollution, waste management etc., many times. We recorded video footages and pictures to make people react. We hoped that HP government would take note of it, but there has been no move yet.

Lack of awareness restricts the readers and public in general from pressurizing the government to act. Public also fail to to check the faults on their own part. That’s like we are digging our own grave.

Put check on deforestation and illegal axing of trees

Deforestation is making the scenario even more poisonous. Himachal Pradesh government needs to take up the issue of axing of trees for illegal construction and encroachment by real estates soon. Recent examples include the illegal axing of hundreds of trees in the Tara Devi Forest and DLF luxury villas in Kanlog in Shimla. In Chamba, the illegal axing of trees is quite higher than it appeared in newspapers.

We need to stop deforestation and take steps to preserve what is left. Himachal needs plantation campaigns.

Corruption: Biggest challenge in implementation of measures

Sadly, the state of affairs is badly infected with corruption in our political and bureaucratic sphere. For example, NGT put a limit on the number of vehicles visiting Rohtang-Pass. According to NGT, only 1000 vehicles (600 petrol and 400 diesel) will be allowed to visit on any day. The tribunal had put heavy cess also, but later put a stay on it after appeal from HP Govt. and taxi unions in Manali.

The step proved to be a jackpot for administration in Manali. In a raid, it was revealed that tourist and taxi drivers are still on the same business. It’s just that they now bribing the administration in order to get a pass. In nutshell, the order from NGT just led to increase in corruption along with pollution.

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