Oil marketing company Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) said on Friday (February 28) that “there will definitely be a marginal increase in retail prices of the fuels from April 1”. IOC chairman Sanjiv Singh, however, assured reporters in Mumbai that “we will not be burdening the consumers with a steep hike”.
Why is the price of automobile fuels being raised?
Starting April 1, Bharat Stage (BS) VI emission norms come into force. This will be an upgrade on the currently prevalent BS-IV and BS-III norms.
The BS emission standards are norms instituted by the Indian government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles. India has been following the European (Euro) emission norms, although with a time lag.
The more stringent the BS norm, lower is the tolerance for pollutants in automobile tailpipe emissions. In effect, as India moves up the BS scale, automobiles become cleaner and greener.
Lower tailpipe emissions are the function of both more efficient engines, and cleaner fuels.
Oil refiners have invested heavily to upgrade their refineries to produce the cleaner, BS-VI compliant fuel.
According to the IOC chairman, the IOC has sunk over Rs 17,000 crore in the upgradation. Earlier in the week, BPCL had said it had invested around Rs 7,000 crore. HPCL, which is run by ONGC, has not so far announced how much it has spent, even though it has said that it is ready to sell only BS-VI fuels by the deadline.
The increase in the pump price of fuel will partially offset this cost that the oil marketing companies have paid. In effect, consumers will have to pay a little extra for auto fuel that is cleaner, and which, ultimately, is expected to lead to cleaner air.
How is BS-VI fuel different from BS-IV fuel?
The main difference between BS-IV and BS-VI (which is comparable to Euro 6) is in the amount of sulphur in the fuel. The lower the sulphur, the cleaner the fuel, so BS-VI fuel is essentially low-sulphur diesel and petrol.
BS-VI fuel is estimated to bring around an 80% reduction in sulphur content — from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm. Also, according to analysts, NOx emissions from diesel cars are expected to come down by nearly 70% and, from cars with petrol engines, by 25%.
How will things change with the new fuels?
Cleaner fuel alone will not make a dramatic difference to air pollution. For the full benefits to be experienced, the introduction of the higher grade fuel must go hand in hand with the rollout of BS-VI compliant vehicles as well.
While automakers will sell only BS-VI vehicles from April 1, all BS-IV vehicles sold before that date will stay on the road for as long as their registration is valid.
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This, however, could be a concern because using BS-VI fuel in the current BS-IV engines (or conversely, running BS-VI engines on the current-grade fuel), may be both ineffective in curbing vehicular pollution, as well as damage the engine in the long run.
What is the history of the adoption of emission norms in India?
India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades such as catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions.
Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996, to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards.
Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified Bharat Stage-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively. BS-II was for the National Capital Region and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.
From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively. From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.
As per the Policy roadmap, BS-V and BS-VI norms were to be implemented from April 1, 2022, and April 1, 2024 respectively.
But in November 2015, the Road Transport Ministry issued a draft notification advancing the implementation of BS-V norms for new four-wheel vehicle models to April 1, 2019, and for existing models to April 1, 2020. The corresponding dates for BS-VI norms were brought forward to April 1, 2021, and April 1, 2022, respectively.
Soon afterward, however, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the government had decided to leapfrog to BS-VI from April 1, 2020, skipping BS-V all together.
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