Trucks contribute more than 60 per cent of the pollutants spewed by diesel vehicles inside Delhi, and have created what is being labelled as “a third peak hour” in the night when an estimated 80,000 of them are allowed to enter the city.
These are the two main points that have emerged from interviews conducted by The Indian Express with a cross-section of officials and experts to find the answer to this question: how are trucks the monsters in Delhi’s air pollution story?
Among the other reasons that have emerged are the massive numbers involved, lack of uniform fuel and emission standards, and uneven switchover to cleaner fuel.
1. 86% freight on roads
While the officials have estimated that an average of 80,000 trucks enter Delhi every night, a study conducted by Dr Sarath Guttikunda, the founder-director of UrbanEmissions.info, for the journal Environmental Development noted that 86% of the total freight in Delhi is carried on roads. “More than three quarters of vegetables and fruits, and almost half of food grains traded in Delhi are destined for other states,” it said.
2. 60% of main pollutants
Studies since 2007 have shown that a spike in the presence of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM), that invisible dangerous dust, late in the night corresponds to the entry of trucks —- the fallout remains till early morning. In other words, the experts said, the trucks have effectively created a “third peak” in Delhi, late in the night, apart from the conventional peak hours before and after office hours.
♦ A 2015 study for IIT Delhi’s Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) pointed out that trucks contribute more than 60% of the main pollutants in the air such as PM 2.5 (particulate matter of less than 2.5 micron), carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide in the “greater Delhi region”.
♦ A 2007 study sponsored by the Delhi government and conducted by IIT Delhi’s Centre for Atmospheric Sciences found that tempos (mini trucks) contributed 58% of the nitrogen oxide and PM levels in the city followed by larger trucks at 24.1%.
♦ A UN Environment Program study on the National Capital Region (NCR) carried out by IIT Delhi and Dr Guttikunda in 2013 noted: “The steady increase and higher pollution levels can be attributed to the exhaust emissions from trucks which are allowed to pass through the city… The high concentrations observed at night tend to linger during the rush hours through 11am combined with the passenger traffic and further exacerbating the exposure times and related health concerns along the major corridors.”
3. Different fuel standards
Since 2010, Delhi and 38 other cities have been using BS IV-level “ultra low sulphur diesel” which is 81% cleaner than the BS III used elsewhere. Experts said that without uniform fuel standards, trucks with national permits will continue to use cheaper, poor quality diesel.
Prof Dinesh Mohan, Emeritus Fellow, TRIPP, said that “the government has been dragging its feet for ten years and… have not looked at the source of the problem, which is providing uniform fuel quality standards to the industry across the country”.
According to M C Mehta, petitioner in the vehicular pollution case in Supreme Court that led to the CNG verdict in Delhi, “How can trucks with poor standards will be allowed inside Delhi just because they are registered in a different state?”
A representative of the transport industry, meanwhile, said the difference in norms across states has meant switching to energy efficient engines is not “economically viable”.
Bhim Wadhwa, president of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), a truckers association, said “The government wants us to control pollution but does not provide us the infrastructure. If my truck is going from Delhi to Agra, which has only BS II or III fuel, what do I do? Even if I have a superior engine I have to take the poor quality fuel, which will damage my truck.”
When contacted, the Union Transport Secretary said that the matter had to be sorted out in consultation with the Petroleum Ministry.
“As far as the entry of trucks into Delhi is concerned, it’s true that different states have different fuels. But if there’s no fuel, what can we do? This matter needs to be taken up with the Petroleum Ministry,” said Vijay Chhibber, Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
4. No clear emission norms
According to Dr Mohan from IIT Delhi, different emission norms in different states has meant that “the government is giving the industry the option of registering a poor quality engine from another state which is much cheaper”.
“Why would a truck manufacturer invest in a costlier truck when he can get a cheaper truck registered at a different state and get a national permit?” he asked.
AIMTC’s Wadhwa responded: “Why should we pay so much more to buy costlier trucks when in half the states we will have to use poor quality fuel? If you wanted us to buy these trucks you would have incentivised this, provided us with infrastructure.”
When contacted, the two largest truck manufacturers in the country, Tata and Ashok Leyland, did not offer any comment.
5. Phased fuel switchover
In 2010, India began a switchover to cleaner BS IV fuel and Euro IV emission norms —- but in a phased manner starting with major cities having high-density traffic. But experts said this has affected air quality because trucks with national permits travel across states.
“The only logical way of managing trucks is to encourage improvement in diesel quality uniformly across the country which would also have given manufacturers more time to upgrade vehicle technology,” said N S Tiwana, former chairperson of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).