The Government had formed a high powered Mashelkar Committee to decide about the National Auto Fuel Policy in the year 2003. This interview was given by RAM after the Government had accepted the Report.
Q1: With the Centre having okayed the Auto Fuel Policy, what is your view is its most important recommendations?
Mashelkar: I believe the most important recommendation is really the proposed ‘balanced’ road map for implementation of vehicular emission norms and corresponding Auto Fuel Policy in phases till the year 2010, for new vehicles, as well as for the in-use vehicles. I use the word ‘balanced’ deliberately since we have taken due care to see that while reducing the vehicular pollution, we minimize the social cost, provide time for adjustments for auto industry as well as fuel suppliers and also look at the issue of fuel security.
Q2: The Government has not accepted the proposal of a National Automobile Pollution and Fuel Authority. Would this affect the overall implementation of your recommendation?
Mashelkar: Setting automobile emission norms and fuel quality standards and ensuring their enforcement and monitoring are multi-level and mulit-sectoral activities in India. That is why NAPFA was proposed. I would have been personally happy to see in NAPFA in place. But in the absence of this, the Government will have to devise a mechanism for close integration of various activities at both the Central as well as the State level.
Q3: In the terms of reference of your report, you mention the policy is designed to set in motion economic instruments to bring better quality air? How would you suggest this be implemented given the reluctance to pay user charges?
Mashelkar: The recommendations are for improved vehicle technology and adequate quality and quantity of fuel at affordable price as well as economic instruments for abatement of pollution to provide better quality of air. The fiscal concessions and waivers suggested are for ensuring security of supplies at affordable cost to support economic and social development. However, it is up to the Government to decide on the fiscal measures and other support systems.
Q4: In your report, you mention that bus transport should be promoted in order to keep in check the growth of private transport. Yet, a higher GDP and increasing disposable incomes and rising aspirations, more and more people want a car? How, therefore, can public transport improvements be brought about?
Mashelkar : I agree with you that more and more people want to buy cars. When I used to go to CSIR’s National Chemical Laboratory five years ago, there were hardly two to three private cars. Today, there are more than 50 cars! You are right there.
However, a good public transport system is a necessity. People will take to it for going to work if they find that they can reach the place of work faster, the service is top class and the life for them is more hassle free. Therefore, improving speed, service and the convenience of public transport system simultaneously through proper political will, planning support and efficient implementation will definitely make public transport more attractive to the commuters.
Q5: Among those who will benefit from the new policy are car makers who find no representation on the committee, can one, therefore, expect their wholehearted cooperation?
Mashelkar: The private car makers were fully consulted. The representatives of private car makers were part of the Working Group constituted by the Committee for in depth examination of the specific issues. All the prominent car makers and SIAM have also made detailed presentation to the Committee. In fact, I myself spent a full day at TELCO to see their preparedness to deliver in the future.
To be frank, I was extremely happy to see Auto industry leaders like, Rahul Bajaj, Venu Srinivasn, Brij Mohan Munjal, etc. personally come and depose before the Committee. In addition, we had many written communications received from leaders such as Ratan Tata, Anand Mahindra, C.K. Birla, etc. Whenever I have chaired a Committee, I have made absolutely sure that all the stakeholders are fully consulted.
Q6: The transformation of the entire bus and public transport to CNG was long drawn and fraught with uncertainty. Yet the firmness of the court was crucial. Do we lack the political will to clean up the air?
Mashelkar : There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the firmness of the court was critical in implementation of the transformation of the entire public transport to CNG. I cannot say that there is no political will, otherwise, they would not have formed this Committee on Auto Fuel Policy and accepted its report. And now they have got busy with its implementation too.
Q7: Critics say that a specific recommendation of a clean fuel would provide a better road map for fuel use yet your report preferred to provide overall standards?
Mashelkar: I do not believe that the specific recommendations of a single clean fuel is necessarily a good idea. You then automatically reduce your choices and also eliminate the scope for innovation.
Q8: The report of the Auto Fuel Policy makes several suggestions regarding the imposition of penalties. How can we ensure compliance given the state of our law enforcement agencies?
Mashelkar : I do not think we should just live with the present state of law enforcement agencies. We need to be dissatisfied and there has to be people’s movement to demand better quality of air and, therefore, of life. Public awareness and certain amount of activism can most certainly help in building the pressure. We have seen this happen again and again.
As regards the imposition of penalty, it is upto the Government to put in a system that will provide for swift, sure and severe penalty for the offenders.
Q9: Some months ago, the CSIR signed a MoU with Daimler Chrysler for a project on biodiesel. What does the CSIR as an organization hope to gain by its involvement and how can this process bring in more stakeholder?
Mashelkar : CSIR hopes to bring in a market pull to this project on biodesel through its collaboration with Daimler Chrysler. Daimler Chrysler had made a commitment to rigorously evaluate the biodiesel from Jatrohpha oil both analytically and through automobile testing. This would help in drawing up appropriate specifications for this biodiesel, besides environmental gains for the purpose of sustainable mobility.
The MoU with Damler Chrysler puts no restrictions on collaboration with others in its national interest. CSIR has already initiated discussions with oil major such IOC and HPCL and interest has been expressed by Reliance as well. Additionally, CSIR has written to various automobile companies about their involvement.
Q 10: A lot of crucial decision should necessarily be data driven. Yet reliable data has been a huge constraint. How does one handle this key issue?
Mashelkar : As a said earlier, our decisions have to be really information based and, therefore, data based rather than emotion based. Unfortunately, that does not happen in our country.
The Committee commissioned special studies thru CRRI, NEERI, IIP, ITRC, NIPFP in respect of Urban road traffic and air pollution, ambient air quality and source apportionment, appraisal of health impact of air pollution due to vehicular emissions, incentive system for replacing old vehicles, rationalisation of road tax, savings on health cost from implementation of Euro norms in India. We did something like 22,000 mandays of work to collect the data. But we need to continue with this process. With Scientific Advisory Council on Hydrocarbons for Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, we have already launched further serious and quantitative studies. This should continue with vigour!
Q 11: Experts say that a huge limiting factor in our economic progress is the lack of adequate human capital. What do you feel about this?
Mashelkar: The economic progress for different countries was based on different triggers in different times of history. It was roads and railways for USA, milk and milk products for Denmark, textiles for Britain and oil for Middle East. But to me the oil for India in the 21st Century is going to be the Indian mind, the Indian talent and the Indian human capital. We have demonstrated how valuable this human capital can be. For example, 0.05% of Indian population comprising computer software engineers produces 20% of our export! We need to improve the quality and the extent of this qualified human capital.
In fact, one of India’s greatest advantage by the year 2020 is 55% of our population in the working group from 15 to 59. We have submitted a Report to the Prime Minister of India 4 months ago about how 50 million jobs can be created with 200 billion dollars economic turn over, simply based on the strength of this human capital.