To the dismay of many automobile manufacturers sitting on a huge inventory of BS III compliant vehicles, the Supreme Court recently ordered that only vehicles with engines compliant with BS IV standards must be sold from April 1, 2017. Authorities have also been prohibited from registering vehicles that don’t meet BS IV norms henceforth, except on proof that the vehicle was sold on or before March 31.

What is it?

Introduced in 2000, the Bharat norms are emission control standards that are based on the European regulations (Euro norms). They set limits for release of air pollutants from equipment using internal combustion engines, including vehicles. Typically, the higher the stage, the more stringent the norms. The BS IV norms were introduced in 13 cities apart from the National Capital Region from April 2010 onwards. According to the roadmap, the entire nation was to be covered under BS IV by April 1, 2017. BS IV fuel was also to be made available across the country from April 1 this year.

BS IV norms stipulate only 50 parts per million sulphur compared with up to 350 parts per million under BS III. Also, hydrocarbon, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions are lower under BS IV.

Why is it important?

While some automakers were betting on April 1, 2017 to be the deadline for the commencement of production of BS IV compliant vehicles and not the sale of such vehicles, the Supreme Court ruling has come not a day too soon. India is on the radar of global automakers as vehicle penetration is still low here, compared to developed countries. Besides, many Indian cities are already among those with the poorest air quality in the world. Upgrading to stricter fuel standards helps tackle air pollution.

Other developing countries such as China have already upgraded to the equivalent of Euro V emission norms a while ago. So, India is lagging behind even after implementation of BS IV norms. Perhaps to compensate for this, BS V standards will be skipped and BS VI norms are proposed to come in by April 2020. Both vehicle manufacturers and fuel suppliers are already working to abide by this deadline.

Why should I care?

Swanky vehicles are nice, but nicer and more important is clean air. In 2014, the National Green Tribunal said that clean air is a fundamental right. You can look forward to breathing in cleaner air as new vehicles now will have to be equipped with engines compliant with BS IV standards. Upgraded emission norms could also mean higher fuel efficiency. BS IV fuel is also being made available pan India, which implies that even your older vehicles can tank up with better fuel.

Besides, the Government has been thinking about a ‘cash-for-clunkers’ scheme. If implemented, this will help owners of older and more polluting vehicles to upgrade to BS IV compliant vehicles, with a subsidy from the government.

On the flip side, the use of new technology means higher costs for auto makers. This could be passed on to buyers. Oil refiners too have had big capital outlays to produce superior quality fuel under BS IV. So, fuel bills could rise too.

The bottomline

The Supreme Court put it best, “The health of the people is far, far more important than the commercial interests of the manufacturers”.

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