The Indian minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, has attracted some rap from Germany after he said that 'use of vehicles like SUVs and BMWs in countries like India is criminal.'
The German Ambassador to India was quick to defend the German auto industry, saying:
The German automotive industry has the most outstanding expertise in the area of engine development and the German automotive technology is far advanced in reducing both fuel consumption and fuel emissions.
Ramesh made this remark at a UN conference on environment in New Delhi. While referring to his government's fuel policy Ramesh complained that the subsidies on diesel meant for farmers was being used by wealthy car owners and that all subsidies on diesel should be removed.
Noting that the transport sector contributes 7.5 percent to India's carbon emissions, the minister said that the sweeping changes in the nation's transport policy were required.
Environment groups like the Centre for Science and Environment welcomed these remarks saying that the large engines of SUVs are less fuel efficient but all emit toxic air pollutants which are degrading urban air quality in the already highly-polluted Indian cities. The auto experts and manufactures, whom Ramesh had referred to, had different opinion.
Auto Industry's Defense
A high-ranking official of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) accused the minister of unreasonably targeting the auto industry and said that the engine technology used today is much more efficient and environmentally friendly. He also said that SUVs constituted a very small percentage of the automobile market in India. However, there is ambiguity in the data due to different categorization of various automobiles.
BMW and Toyota, which are among the leading SUV sellers in India, issued statements regarding Ramesh's statement. While BMW said that it offered clean and highly efficient diesel technology in its cars, Toyota's Deputy Managing Director said that his company's cars met all the emission standards set by the government.
The non-specificity in the minister's remarks have left his statement to several interpretations. Only scientific data can determine how clean the diesel technologies in SUVs running on Indian roads are. India has implemented the Bharat 4 emission standards, similar to the Euro 4 standards, in 13 major cities. Now the minister cannot complain much if these automakers are following these standards.
Subsidies Gone Wrong
Ramesh is, however, right in advocating reforms in the fuel policy. For decades the Indian government has been providing subsidies on diesel as it is used by the farmers in their tractors and generators to power irrigation systems.
But these subsidies have also benefited the rich and wealthy. For quite sometime now the opposition parties have called for increased import duties on these cars and additional taxes at the time of purchase in order to offset the subsidies on fuel. Ramesh has indicated that he will propose such fiscal measures to the Finance Minister for next year's budget.
While the air quality has improved significantly in India's metros, the government must continue to push for more stringent emission standards and should promote cleaner automobiles. The government must also make sure that the subsidies reach only those who really require them.
Image: IFACR (Wikimedia Commons)
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.