A study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation has revealed that Mercedes Benz C22D,Toyota Land Cruizer 200, Mahendra XUV 500 and Hundai I20 diesel models in India emit 455% more particulate matter and over 200% more poisonous nitrogen oxide than their counter parts in Europe. Even worse most cars manufactured in India have failed frontal crash tests. Despite being one of the world’s biggest automobile markets, India has flimsy safety norms resulting in the world’s highest death rate in road fatalities.
HISTORICALLY, Goa’s unique selling proposition has not been the beaches or the casinos, but the quality of its air. Every time I returned to Goa from a visit to Mumbai or even worse, from the pollution capital of India, New Delhi, I take pleasure in the pure air that I was able to breathe the moment I alighted at Dabolim airport. This luxury may not last much longer because we are very rapidly going the way of Delhi. Where the pollution levels are so high that the Supreme Court has barred the registration of any fresh purchases of diesel Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs). The Government of Delhi has also restricted the entry of automobiles into the national capital, New Delhi, alternately to odd and even numbered passenger vehicles.
POLLUTION levels in the country and particularly in Goa are going up because more and more of the bold and beautiful, rich and powerful, are relocating to Goa. Over the last decade, there has been a huge construction boom which has witnessed the proliferation of high-rise gated colonies for the benefit of those who want to relocate to Goa or want a holiday home in Goa. Correspondingly the numbers of SUVs have registered a huge increase. Goans are also going in increasingly for large diesel engine cars which are a major contributor to air pollution.
The explosion in cars has made metropolitan cities in the country including Goa an epicenter of air pollution. Along with obesity, air pollution is the world’s fastest growing cause of fatal illnesses. Particularly disease like cancer and other respiratory problems. A study published in Lancet, considered to be the most reputed medical journal in the world, reveals that worldwide a record five million people annually died from air pollution in 2014, compared to eight lakhs in 2000.
Air pollution, according to Lancet, now ranks for the first time in the world’s top list of causes for killer diseases according to the global burden of disease study. The head of air pollution in the Centre for Science and Environment, Anumita Roy Chowdhury, has concluded that “There is hard evidence now to act urgently to reduce the public health risk to all, particularly children, elderly and the poor. No one can escape toxic air. According to a United Nations report conducted by a Consortium of Universities, 65% of air pollution deaths are now in Asia which lost 52 million years of healthy life from fine particle air pollution. Air pollution also contributes to higher rates of cognitive decline, strokes and heart attacks.
IRONICALLY, the main culprits for the increasing level of air pollution are the manufacturers of passenger vehicles in the country. If an increasing number of Indians and Goans are suffering from air pollution, it is because of the callousness of the manufacturers of automobiles. And we are not talking about small companies alone but some of the most famous names in the automobile industry. [su_pullquote]A study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation has revealed that the Mercedes Benz C 220D, the Toyota Land Cruiser 200GX, Mahindra XUV 500 and Hyundai I20 diesel models in India emit 455% more particulate matter and over 200% more poisonous nitrogen oxide than the same models of vehicles manufactured in Europe and the United States.[/su_pullquote] Indeed, this applies even to various cars manufactured by Hyundai in India like the popular I20 and I-10 for export to Europe. Presumably one of the reasons why so many automobile manufacturers are anxious to ma0ke in India is because they can literally get away with murder.
It is not as though petrol cars are much safer than diesel cars. The transportation study quoted earlier reveals that Four standard petrol cars sold in India are admittedly seven times cleaner than diesel ones. But Maruti Celerio and Honda City Petrol models emit 30% more noxious fumes than European and Australian models. Automobile manufacturers, while not denying that cars manufactured in India are far more polluting than even those built for export, blame it on the fuel quality. Apparently, the fuel that is available and sold in this country, primarily by public sector companies, have a much greater sulphur content than fuel sold in Europe. The truth, as Ray Minjares, who heads the clean air programme at the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) points out, manufacturers are more concerned about profit than ecology. They do not have an incentive to produce clean cars while they have a vested interest in dirty cars. Minjares has made the shocking revelation that even a company as internationally reputed as the Tata Group puts profits over clean air. It has been revealed that the Indian model of Tata Xenon XT emits ten times more particulate matter and over five times more nitrogen oxide than its Australian counterpart.
The International Council for Clean Transportation has exposed the underhand practices of automobile manufacturers in the country. It has pointed out that automobile manufacturers in the country follow Euro four or Bharat four (Standards for levels of emissions) as compared to Europe where the government compels them to upgrade the quality of their cars to Euro Six. According to study, the Euro four standards are less than half of the environmental safety levels of euro six. Moving to euro six can cut the poisonous emissions from our cars upto three times. Auto manufacturers in the country already have the technology to manufacture euro five and euro six compliant engines but are manufacturing these only for European markets.
WHAT is even more disgusting is the expose by consumer activists that automobile manufacturers have been apparently routinely lying over the emission levels of the cars that they market so aggressively. Mercedes Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi are part of a growing list of manufacturers allegedly known to emit far higher levels of noxious gases on the road than in regulatory tests. According to Nick Molden whose company Emissions Analysis tests the claims of automobile manufacturers on how clean their cars are, the practice of fudging is widespread. The British newspaper, the Manchester Guardian, recently revealed that diesel cars made by Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and Jeep all emitted significantly more noxious carcinogenic chemicals in real driving conditions than in controlled lab tests.
ACCORDING to the Guardian, NOx pollution is at illegal levels in many parts of the UK and is believed to have caused thousands of premature deaths and billions of pounds in health costs. If this can happen in a country like the UK where the regulatory authorities are relatively very strict, one can really imagine what happens in a country like India where the regulatory authority, the road transport authorities, are considered to be amongst the most corrupt in the world. The harsh truth is that car makers design vehicles which perform much better in laboratory conditions than real roads.
In what has come to be known as the mother of all scams and the “Diesel Dupe,” the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States discovered that VW cars sold in America had been fitted with a ‘defeat device’ software which could detect when the diesel engines installed in them were being tested and changed the performance to show improved results. On the road however, the same vehicles were emitting nitrogen oxide pollutants 40 times above what is legally allowed. The supreme irony is that the scam was discovered in the wake of a marketing bid by the company which trumpeted low emission levels of the VW cars they sold.
The defeat device was allegedly fitted into VW models including Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat of which the Beetle and the Golf are very popular with Goan automobile enthusiasts. The company has even been accused by the EPA of modifying software on the three litre diesel engines fitted to some Porsche and Audi Models as well. The exposure of the scam by the Environmental Protection Agency led to the resignation of the group’s American boss, Michael Horn, and the admission by the group’s Chief Executive, Martin Winterkorn, that his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.”
HIGH levels of emission are not the only risks that are faced by the purchasers of automobiles in the country. The even bigger scandal is the failure of automobiles manufactured in the country to meet the international norms for crash tests. This refers to tests carried out on cars to find out what would be the impact or the damages if the car crashed into another vehicle or a wall or any other impediment. There are stringent standards laid down for crash tests internationally. When cars manufactured in India were subjected to the International Global Council of Automobile Protection (GCAP), the results were shocking.
These tests were carried out at Landsberg outside Munich which has the best facilities for crash tests. Not surprisingly, the Tata Nano and the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 fared poorly, which is perhaps understandable but not excusable because they are budget cars. But even others like the Hyundai I-10 and the Ford Figo failed to pass the test. While the European Version of the I-10 made only in India for the world got a five star NCAP rating, the Indian car made for Indian automobile owners failed. Despite the fact that both models were made in the same automobile plant in Chennai. None of the cars made for sale in India had air bags and standard equipment which is mandatory in Europe and the other developed countries. Even the structural stability of the car is suspect.
The utter and total neglect of safety norms by the overwhelming majority of automobile manufacturers in the country, including international automobiles companies which have set up plants in India, explains why India has the dubious reputation of having the highest road deaths incidence in the world. Despite being one of the world’s biggest automobile market India has flimsy safety norms. Even worse, despite the highest death rate in road fatalities, India does not even have appropriate legislation for crash testing of vehicles.
WITH the Goa government trying to speed up the resumption of mining, the additional worry is the revival of the pollution caused by the 15,000 registered diesel run trucks that were engaged in transporting iron ore from the mining pit head to the jetty or the port for export. Studies have established that the transport sector in Goa, including the trucks transporting ore and coal, are the major source of pollution in the state. Their share in poisoning Goa’s air is much greater than that of industry which is less than 20%, presumably because Goa does not have many big industrial units. A significant amount of non-exhaust dust emission from the movement of vehicles on poorly maintained roads has contributed to the high levels of pollution, particularly in the mining talukas.
It is not trucks and diesel SUVs alone which are responsible for the steadily growing levels of pollution in the country. The erratic and unreliable power supply in Goa also contributes to the spread of poison in the air we breathe. In view of the fact that Goa does not have any capital power generation capacity, it is entirely dependent on the central grid for the supply of power. The leakages and thefts result in transmission loss as high as 30%. This is compounded by the poor maintenance of transformers and overhead lines. The electricity department itself has acknowledged that many of the overhead lines and transformers are over 20 to 30 years old.
The consequence is that no industrial unit can function in Goa without diesel generator backup. This is also true of the hospitality sector which cannot afford frequent interruptions in power supply. Goa has probably the largest number of diesel generator sets per capita compared to even states like Karnataka and New Delhi which face acute power shortage. The diesel generators also contribute to the growing levels of pollution in the state.
IT IS not widely known that mobile towers on which the range of your mobile depends also use diesel generators. Particularly when mobile towers are put up in remote areas which do not have power supply. In Goa with the poor quality of power and frequent interruptions, every mobile tower has to have a diesel generator backup. With the explosion in the mobile population in the country and the introduction of 4G, it is believed that next to transport, the telecom sector may be the largest source of pollution in the country. A Telecom specific emission inventory published by Saroj Kumar Shah, a post doctoral fellow at a German University, revealed that emissions from the 14,326 mobile towers in Delhi was as high as 2,123 tons per PM 10 per year. A 2013 Pollution Inventory prepared by Dr. Sarath Guttikunda found that diesel combustion from generators contribute 6% of PM 2.5 and 10% PM 10 levels in Delhi and Satellite towns. A study needs to be carried out in Goa to assess the damage caused to the environment by diesel generators.
It is a vicious cycle. With more people wanting to relocate or wanting a holiday home, there is an ever expanding demand for housing. This leads to the explosion in large high-rise gated colonies. The increase in the number of high income housing in turn leads to the increase in the population of SUVs which are virtually a necessity in Goa because of poor public transport and extortionate taxi fares. It does not stop at that. The more the number of tourists, the greater the number of SUVs entering the state. It has been estimated that during the peak of the peak season, more than two lakhs SUVs enter the state. As the population of the bold and beautiful and rich and powerful increases, more malls come up. Due to the phenomenal growth of tourism over the last two decades the number of hotels has also increased several fold.
More buildings and hotels means more generators. More rich residents and tourists means more mobile towers. More tourists and more affluent residents means more SUVs. Poor power supply means dependence on diesel generators. And with the resumption of mining, there will be 15,000 or more diesel trucks on the roads again. Which is why, unless we take precautions now, we will soon become another Delhi literally choking on very high levels of pollution.
The Article Written by Rajan Narayan, Editor of Goan Observer
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