Pic Credits- gomechanic.in


Pollution Due to the Automobile Sector in India

In the contemporary scenario, there has been a substantial boom in the transport sector of India. The number of vehicles has gone up significantly by 700 times from merely 0.3 million in 1951 to a staggering 210 million in 2015. [1] The exact number of vehicles may be 20-25% lower, due to the inclusion of out of service vehicles. In a study conducted for Delhi, it was found that pollution contributed by vehicles has increased to 72% (2000-2001) from 23% (1970-1971).[2]

Sources of air pollution in Delhi [3]


Automobiles emit significant quantitates of CO2, CO, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, NO2, other toxins such as Benzene, Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, and Lead (at least until unleaded gasoline replaced leaded gasoline). Each of these items, along with secondary by-products such as ozone and secondary aerosols (e.g. nitrates and inorganic and organic acids), are detrimental to human and animal health and the environment. [4]

The problem of deteriorating air quality due to emissions is posing health hazards to the citizens and thus it is an issue that needs to be addressed expeditiously. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), found that a citizen in Delhi dies from air pollution every hour.[5] This problem is not territorially limited to the metropolitans of India but is an epidemic that is being faced globally.[6] According to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), vehicular pollution caused the premature death of 385,000 worldwide. In furtherance, India was responsible for 70% of global transportation-attributable PM 2.5 and ozone deaths but just under half of the global population.[7] Vehicular pollution in India is majorly caused due to the lack of technological advancement of engines and the use of adulterated fuel.[8] “The impure fuel is turning our cities to gas chambers reducing engine efficiency, weakening national productivity, and dragging the economy down.”[9]

The toxicology reports of The Health Effects Institute have provided suggestive evidence on the adverse effect of traffic emissions on cardiovascular functions. In furtherance, it has also been found that children residing near busy roads have a higher tendency to develop Asthma, and adults who are already suffering from respiratory diseases are at a much higher risk. The study also suggested that long term exposure to these harmful emissions can cause alteration in lung function. [10]

Emission Norms in India and the Need for BS-VI Norms

Vehicular emission standards in India are governed by The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and The Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), 1989. In furtherance, The Air Act, 1981, and The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provide for the emission standards by the MOEF or CPCB. In 2002, the government accepted the report submitted by the Mashelkar committee, which proposed a road map for the rollout of Euro-based emission norms in India. [11] Although the emission standards have evolved over time, they have failed to counteract the rising pollution because of limited implementation across India.

Change in Emission Standards[12]

Even though the BS-IV standard was later extended to 50 cities in India, the result was not satisfactory. The BS-IV standard fuel has a much higher cost than the pre-existing BS-III. The cost of compliance was much more than the actual benefit to the environment and the economy.

According to a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, vehicular emissions are contributing to the plummeting air quality of India. This survey was a joint operation of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, CPCB and Delhi Government. The report opines that “the problem of air pollution is encompassing everything which is related covertly or overtly to human beings and any leniency on the part of Government in tackling the issue will have a cascading effect on the health of its citizens.” [13] In a study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it was found that Gwalior, Patna, Delhi, Ludhiana, Allahabad, Raipur, Varanasi, and Khanna are among the most contaminated cities in the world.[14]

The BS-VI Standard

India has always been 5 years behind in terms of the technology used to diminish vehicular emissions. Due to the escalating risk of air pollution, the government decided to leapfrog from the existing BS-IV standard to BS-VI. The Indian government recognized the emergent need of reducing vehicular emissions which couldn’t have been met by implementing BS-V norms.

The government is entrusted with the responsibility of balancing the economic interests of manufacturers and oil companies vis-a-vis the degrading environment. Under the wide interpretation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the citizens have a fundamental right to a wholesome environment.[15] Article 21 of the Constitution confers a right to a decent environment under the purview of Right to Life. The citizens are entitled to a smoke and contamination-free environment under the interpretation of “Quality of life.”[16] Thus, in the case of M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India & Others, the Supreme Court recognized the ailing environment and directed that “no motor vehicle conforming to the emission standard Bharat Stage IV shall be sold or registered in the entire country with effect from 01.04.2020.[17] In furtherance, The Central Government through the Ministry of Road Transportation and Highways (MORTH) has released a draft notification to modify the Central Motor Vehicles Rules. The new norm inhibits registration of BS-IV compliant vehicles manufactured before April 1 2020.[18] The court’s judgment has gone leaps and bounds to safeguard the interests of millions of people. In its judgment, the court also recognized the poorly drafted provisions of (sub-rule 21) Rule 115 of The Central Motor Vehicles Rules,1989, which state that:

“In the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, in rule 115, after sub rule (20), the following sub rule shall be inserted namely:

“(21) New motor vehicles conforming to Emission Standard Bharat Stage IV, manufactured before the 1st April, 2020 shall not be registered after the 30th June,2020:

Provided that the new motor vehicles of categories M and N conforming to Emission Standard Bharat Stage IV, manufactured before the 1st April, 2020 and sold in the form of drive away chassis, shall not be registered after the 30th September, 2020.”

The abovementioned rule was declared to be vague as it only took into account the prohibition on the registration of vehicles till 31.06.2020 but does not mention anything about their sale. The notice provides an extension to register vehicles beyond 1.4.2020. Notices concerning public health have to be purposely interpreted to protect the interests of the citizens. Therefore, the court interpreted the notification to include a ban on both sale and registration of vehicles post 1.04.2020. The Government of India has come up with a phasing out policy for the polluting vehicles and to inhibit their production.[19] The Court gave a broad interpretation to Rule 115 of The Central Motor Vehicles using the “purposive approach” of statutory interpretation considering the Legislative Intent. Rule 115 was enacted to impose a blanket ban on trade of BS-IV compliant vehicles. The underlying purpose of the legislation was to take rapid action considering the public health concerns and the deteriorating air quality.

Policy Implications of this Leapfrogging 

A) Environment

The new emission regime would lower NOx levels by 25% and 68% for petrol and diesel engines respectively. Additionally, the BS-VI standard would also reduce PM levels by a staggering 82%.[20]

Emission targets (BS-IV vs. BS-VI)[21] 0_0_0_0_70_http___cdni.autocarindia.com_News_BS6-info-10.jpg

The sulphur emissions would also be reduced drastically from 50mg/kg (in BS-IV) to only 10mg/kg (in BS-VI). Lower sulphur content in fuel would ensure better and cleaner combustion, this in turn would lower emissions of Carbon Monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx. The NOx emissions are reduced by 68% and the PM emissions are reduced in the range of 82%-93% depending on the size of the vehicle.[22]

B) Car Manufacturers & Oil Companies

Unlike the earlier beliefs according to which development and ecology couldn’t co-exist, the concept of sustainable development has been enforced in the contemporary scenario. Thus, the government has been bestowed with the responsibility of promoting development while ensuring the conservation of the environment at the same time. [23]The ecology and future needs of the upcoming generation cannot be compromised for fulfilling the self-centred interests of the automobile manufacturers.

Car manufacturers have been significantly affected by the sudden changeover to the BS-VI emission standards. Unlike the gradual changeovers of earlier emission standards, the Government has completely prohibited the sale of any non-BS-VI compliant vehicle post 1.4.2020. Thus, the automobile manufacturers would not have an opportunity to overproduce non-BS-VI compliant vehicles and then continue their sale as “unsold inventory”.[24] Manufacturers are complaining that they have not been given a reasonable period of time to shift the production line. The cost of air pollution abatement has to be quantified w.r.t cost incurred for producing BS6 compliant vehicles and the cost of matching the fuel standards. [25] A change to BS-VI compliant vehicles requires huge sums of investment and significant changes in technology. The up-gradation of technology would lead to a rise in vehicle prices which in turn would reduce the market demand. Thus, the BS-VI policy would increase the cost of production and also diminish the profits for the car manufacturers.[26]

In furtherance, the Corona virus outbreak which is followed by a nationwide lockdown and economic recession, has reduced sales and forced manufacturers to price the new BS-VI vehicles closer to the BS-IV vehicles. [27] The Federation of Automobile Dealers Association (FADA) filed a plea for providing an extension of 2 months to clear the piled up BS-IV inventory. The Supreme Court rejected this plea and has only agreed to provide an extension of 10 days.[28] An extension of merely 10 days is not going to counteract the reducing consumer spending caused by the lockdown. Although the government is taking swift actions to protect the environment, it should simultaneously implement policies such as tax reduction to support the car manufacturers and oil companies. The government should not transfer the burden of BS-VI compliance on these entities without providing any assistance.

In the global market there has been a major trend of consolidation of the oil refineries with the closure of small scale refineries. Amidst the major changes happening in this sector, the regulatory price setting in India is below cost which further depletes the income of the refineries. Hence, this is an added hurdle for the oil refineries in India for complying with the BS-VI standard. Over the years, companies supplying oil to the transport sector have invested huge sums of capital to comply with the new norms. According to the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MOPNG), the oil refineries are required to invest Rs 80,000 crore for producing BS-VI compliant fuel.[29] Additionally, the Government of India has decided to invest in 30,000 crores.[30] Despite government efforts, the oil companies are facing “A steep uphill journey[31]” in terms of investment and technological advancement. Thus, to reduce the pressure on oil refineries, the Union government has decided to implement BS-VI fuel in a phased manner across India.

C) Buyers

The perspective of the consumer base in India w.r.t developments in auto fuel policy has been greatly affected by fuel efficiency. The Central government has competently taken this factor into account with the introduction of BS-VI. Due to the catalytic system and diesel particulate filter, the sulfur compounds would be removed and this would ensure better performance and robustness of the engine.[32] The majority of the costs will be borne by buyers of diesel vehicles. Subject to the already existing diesel technology, an additional cost of Rs 30,000 would be incurred. Upgrading from BS-IV to BS-VI vehicle would entail an approximate cost of Rs 70,000 per unit.[33]


The government has recognized the degrading state of the environment and has given public health precedence over wealth. In addition, the government needs to live up to the expectation of “one country, one fuel” by implementing BS-VI standards nationwide. Therefore, the steps taken by the government towards cleaner fuel and cleaner emission standards are commendable. The changeover to BS-VI would improve the air quality multifold. However, the onus of the government does not end here. The government has to come up with effective monitoring and inspection policies that would ensure a regular check on the vehicles.


(This post has been authored by Siddhant Thakar, a 4th year law student at Jindal Global Law School)



  1. Anumita Roychowdhury, Vivek Chattopadhaya, Gaurav Dubey, Swati Singh Sambyal, Avikal Somvanshi, Shambhavi Shukla and Tanushree Ganguly 2019, 5 June: At the Crossroads, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
  2. Chand, Smriti. “Vehicular Pollution in India (2118 Words).” Your Article Library, 17 Dec. 2013 <http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/pollution/vehicular-pollution-in-india-2118-words/19796>.
  3. “Vehicular Pollution in India (2118 Words).” Your Article Library, 17 Dec. 2013 <www.yourarticlelibrary.com/pollution/vehicular-pollution-in-india-2118-words/19796> ↑
  4. Report of the Expert Committee on Auto Fuel Vision & Policy 2025 34.
  5. “To Meet Air Quality Standards, Delhi Needs a 65 per Cent Cut in Pollution Levels – Says New CSE Analysis.” Centre for Science and Environment <https://www.cseindia.org/to-meet-air-quality-standards-delhi-needs-a-65-per-cent-cut-in-pollution-levels-says-new-cse-analysis-9666>.
  6. WHO Commission on Health and Environment & World Health Organization (‎1992)‎, ‘Our planet, our health: report of the WHO Commission on Health and Environment’ World Health Organization.
  7. The International Council on Clean Transportation <theicct.org/publications/health-impacts-transport-emissions-2010-2015>.
  8. D. Biswas and R. Ray, ‘Evaluation of Adulterated Petrol-Fuels’, Indian Chem. J., 43(4), 314-317 (2001).
  9. Amit p. Gawande and Jayant p. Kaware, ‘Fuel adulteration consequences in India: A Review’, Ssci. Revs. Chem. Commun: 3(3), 2013, 161-171.
  10. HEI Panel on the Health Effects of Traffic-Related Air Pollution. 2010. “Traffic-Related Air Pollution:
    A Critical Review of the Literature on Emissions, Exposure, and Health Effects”, HEI Special Report 17- Health Effects Institute, Boston, MA.
  11. Business Standard, “What are BS VI Norms and Impact: What BS-6 Means: Bharat Stage Emission Standards.” Business Standard <www.business-standard.com/about/what-is-bs-vi-norms>.
  12. Auto Report of the Expert Committee on Auto Fuel Vision & Policy 2025 90.
  13. “Air Pollution in Delhi and National Capital Region.” PRS India, 5 Sept. 2018 <https://www.prsindia.org/content/air-pollution-delhi-and-national-capital-region>.
  14. “World’s Most Polluted Cities”, World Economic Forum, 03.05.2018.
  15. N.D. Jayal v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 362.
  16. M.C.Mehta v. Union of India, (2004) 12 SCC 118.
  17. M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India & Others, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13029 Of 1985 {2018}.  
  18. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=136836.
  19. M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India & Others, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13029 Of 1985 {2018}.  
  20. Bs6 Emission Norms: All You Need To Know – Autocar India <https://www.autocarindia.com/car-news/bs6-emission-norms-all-you-need-to-know-413968>.

  21. Nishant Parekh Author. “Clearing the Air on BS6.” Autocar India, 30 Aug. 2019 <www.autocarindia.com/car-news/bs6-emission-norms-all-you-need-to-know-413968>.
  22. http://transportpolicy.net/index.php?title=India:_Light-duty:_Emissions
  23. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987) 4 SCC 463.
  24. “BS-VI Transition: SC Gives Precedence to Public Health over Wealth” Down To Earth, <https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/air/bs-vi-transition-sc-gives-precedence-to-public-health-over-wealth-61936>.
  25. Chatterjee, Sushmita, et al. ‘Estimating Cost of Air Pollution Abatement for Road Transport in India: Case Studies of Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh’ Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 42, no. 36, 2007, pp. 3662–3668. JSTOR <www.jstor.org/stable/40276365>.
  26. M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India & Others, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13029 Of 1985 {2018}.  
  27. ET Bureau, ‘Covid-19 Break Messes up Automakers BS6 Pricing Strategy’ The Economic Times, 3 Apr. 2020 <economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/auto/auto-news/covid-19-break-messes-up-automakers-bs6-pricing-strategy/articleshow/74961210.cms>.
  28. Press Trust of India, ‘10-Day Extension of BS-VI Deadline Unlikely to Do ‘Any Good’: Report’ Business Standard, 30 Mar. 2020 <www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/10-day-extension-of-bs-vi-deadline-unlikely-to-do-any-good-to-auto-industry-report-120033000937_1.html>.
  29. “Transport Ministry Advances BS-VI Implementation” Down To Earth <https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/air/transport-ministry-prepones-bsvi-implementation-52344>.
  30. M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India & Others, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13029 Of 1985 {2018}.  
  31. Report of the Expert Committee on Auto Fuel Vision & Policy 2025 34.
  32. Auto Report of the Expert Committee on Auto Fuel Vision & Policy 2025 90.
  33. Auto Report of the Expert Committee on Auto Fuel Vision & Policy 2025 90.

Cite as: Siddhant Thakar, ‘BS6: A Leapfrog to Sustainability’ (The Contemporary Law Forum, 14 May 2020) <http://tclf.in/2020/05/14/bs-6:-a-leapfrog-to-sustainability> date of access.

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