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Nod for recommendations on auto fuel policy
By Sushma Ramachandran

NEW DELHI, JAN. 8. The Cabinet today approved the Mashelkar Committee's recommendations on auto fuel policy seeking to implement Bharat Stage II (Euro-II) vehicle emission norms by April 1, 2005, even as environmentalists criticised the decision. The acceptance of the report will entail an investment of Rs. 17,000 crores by the oil refineries to upgrade technology while the automobile industry will have to carry out investments estimated at Rs. 25,000 crores.

The Cabinet has also decided to authorise the Ministries concerned to take steps for implementing the committee's recommendations, according to the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Pramod Mahajan, who briefed presspersons after the Cabinet meeting.

The broad recommendations of the committee, headed by the Director-General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), R. A. Mashelkar, are that Euro II norms, in force in the four metros, should be extended to the entire country. As for Euro III emission norms, these should be introduced in the seven mega cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad from April 1, 2004, and extended to the rest of the country from 2010.

One of the most controversial recommendations is leaving the choice of fuel and vehicular technology to the owners and operators of vehicles, with the Government prescribing only the emission standards.

Responding to the environmentalists' criticism on the failure to specify ``clean'' fuels, the committee's member- secretary, Shivraj Singh, - also Joint Secretary in the Petroleum Ministry - has pointed out that the use of CNG as a fuel could be more polluting unless vehicles were specifically designed for its utilisation and properly maintained. Currently CNG engines were being fitted in buses designed for diesel engines. Proper maintenance of these vehicles was also essential as carbon monoxide fumes could be nearly fatal. It was thus important to follow international norms which lay down rules for emissions and did not specify the fuel to be used.

On the speed with which the report was cleared, Mr. Singh said there was no problem in processing the report since representatives of various Ministries were present on the committee. Secondly, oil refineries needed at least 36 months to convert facilities to the new standards for fuel quality and any delay would affect the target date. Thirdly, the Supreme Court had sought to know the timetable for implementing Euro II norms all over the country by its next hearing on the CNG issue, slated for early next month.

He said implementing Euro IV norms by 2005 would not improve the pollution levels in the capital much either. The norms were meant for new vehicles while pollution was due to the older vehicles and vehicles transiting the capital. To obtain a detailed data on this issue, the committee had commissioned a report by the Central Road Research Institution, the National Environmental Engineering Industry and the Indian Institute of Petroleum.

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