Clean Tech

Give that old automobile a break!

Preethi Mehra |Salmanul Farisy | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021
Confusion, the epitaph The number of end-of-life vehicles is expected to rise to 21 million in 2025. Glimpses of the chaos at the informal vehicle scrapping market in Pudupet, Chennai.

Confusion, the epitaph The number of end-of-life vehicles is expected to rise to 21 million in 2025. Glimpses of the chaos at the informal vehicle scrapping market in Pudupet, Chennai.

Auto waste could prove to be a serious threat if an end-of-life legislation for vehicles is not enacted urgently in the country, writeSalmanul Farisy and Preeti Mehra

Pudupet in Chennai and Mayapuri in Delhi have a lot in common. They are both one-stop destinations for second-hand automotive spare parts. Here you can find every kind of make and model, from imported car parts to original spares and classic automobiles.

But that is not all. Both the markets play a crucial role in the scrapping of vehicles, an activity, for which there is no legislation in the country and which is primarily carried out on a large scale by the informal sector.

In both Pudupet and Mayapuri you see workers, with hammer and electric saws in hand, literally taking apart end-of-life-vehicles (ELVs), a term loosely used for automobiles that have completed a life of 15 years or more. The labour manually strips them down to recover scrap metal. Auto components are refurbished for the hand-me-down market, while the salvaged material resource is sent for recycling. It is an important source of secondary raw material that feeds a wide variety of demands.

In the dilapidated scrap yards in Chennai, workers and owners are tight lipped about the job they perform, the economics of it, the amount they earn and whether the business is licensed or taxed in any way. “There is tremendous pressure on them to shift the scrap yards out of Pudupet, their livelihood is at stake,” says an industry watcher explaining their silence. He reiterates the urgent need for formalising the activity, training the workers in sustainable recovery management and depollution during the dismantling process.

No dismantling procedure

Today, the breaking-down operations pose a serious environmental threat. No depollution procedure is being followed. In most of the yards hazardous fluids are spilt on to the floor, contaminating the entire area with oil, coolants and other such liquids. “Toxic gases such as AC gas are released into the air generating several occupational safety issues and environmental hazards,” explains Souvik Bhattacharjya, Fellow at the Centre for Resource Efficiency and Governance, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi. “The water stream in the surrounding area gets polluted with rubber and plastic.” Bhattacharjya and other research colleagues have been involved in formulating a vehicle scrapping policy in the country for several years. Last March they produced a policy brief around the issue.

Last year, the Central Pollution Control Board brought out guidelines for environmentally sound management of ELVs aimed at regulating the sector. The policy brief outlines the recommendations, which include a system of shared responsibility involving all stakeholders — the government, manufacturers, recyclers, dealers, insurers and consumers. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is also in the process of drafting an ELV policy, which is expected to provide incentives to vehicle owners for surrendering old polluting vehicles and open new avenues for scrap recycling in India.

The researchers at TERI, who have been studying the problem, realise its enormity. While an automobile’s average life is considered to be around 15 years, after which it enters the ELV phase, estimates reveal that in India over 8.7 million vehicles have already reached their ELV phase in 2015. The number is expected to rise to 21 million in 2025. In Delhi and Noida, for instance, you can see hundreds of abandoned or stranded vehicles, a majority of them cars, gathering dust and blocking roads around the vicinity of police stations.

Sustainable business model

After comparing ELV management systems in China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and the European Union, TERI researchers feel India’s solution could lie in creating a sustainable business model for retired vehicles. In the policy brief they argue for a framework that will help “obtain maximum economic benefits, create social values and prevent environmental degradation”. They outline a 6R life cycle design — reduce, remanufacture, reuse, recover, recycle and redesign, pinning the responsibility for each R at a different doorstep.

For instance, the responsibility of the manufacturer would be to reduce and redesign, which means auto companies would need to reduce material variability, design parts from recycled material and build them in a way that makes for easier and more efficient dismantling. The reuse of usable dismantled parts could be the responsibility of the part dealers and original equipment manufacturers, while recyclers could be encouraged to retrieve relevant material and pass it on for manufacturing once again, feeding the circular economy as it were.

Vehicle dealers, the brief suggests, could double up as accredited units authorised to collect and recycle vehicles and take a proposed ELV cess from customers at the time of vehicle purchase. The task of deregistering a vehicle, of course, would fall upon the owner and could come with incentives such as discounts on a new product by the car dealer or a standard price for returning the vehicle.

Here the Regional Transport Office (RTO) could play a key role as the agency that receives the ELV and provides the owner a certificate of destruction or a certificate of deregistering. Based on a rate list published by the RTO, the vehicle owner could receive a payment for surrendering the ELV.

Currently, the informal sector buys retired vehicles from owners. The price arrived at depends on the model and condition of the engine. For example, at the Pudupet market, an old Indica is priced between ₹15,000 and ₹20,000, while in the case of a Benz it may go up to ₹1,00,000. While selling, the owner has to pass on the RC book to the dismantler in order to avoid complications on the police’s end. “We ask for the RC book or a No Objection Certificate from the owner or financier to avoid legal hassles,” says a shop owner.

And last, but certainly not the least, is the urgent need to integrate the existing informal ELV sector into the sustainable recovery management chain as it provides jobs to a vast number of people. Also, scrap yard economics will have to be built into the system so that a parallel ELV system is eliminated.

In order to do this and bring the informal sector into the mainstream would mean helping scrap yard owners register as service providers, handholding them while they climb the compliance ladder, training and encouraging them to abide by occupational, health and safety standards.

Though the task sounds easy enough, on the ground it needs enormous effort and resources.

It also needs a dedicated organisation that would take on such a task. But, above all, it needs a legislation in place that can kickstart the process.

Published on March 13, 2018
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