Fuelling devilish debate

 Fuelling devilish debate We were very puzzled by two letters that appeared in quick succession in the letters to the editor columns of The Economic Times and Business Standard (July 10 and July 15 respectively), hurling all kinds of accusations at the recently published Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) monograph ‘Engines of the Devil’. These letters are from S G Shah, who has been a prominent industry spokesperson as the former executive director of the Society of the Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).

The tone of his letters was appalling and simply reeked of muckraking without making any serious effort to appreciate the debate on the risks from particulate matter pollution in Indian cities and how dieselisation threatens to aggravate the problem. He has tried his best to trivialise a serious debate over public health and reduce it to a misleading diesel vs petrol dispute.

Our immediate reaction was to get a confirmation from the SIAM top brass if these letters were in any way connected with a larger design of the automobile industry association to scuttle the debate on the problem of particulate emission from diesel vehicles. We got an immediate response from the present SIAM executive director Rajat Nandi, who confirmed that Shah has written these letters in his personal capacity and the association had nothing to do with the issue. Nandi also assured us that Venu Srinivasan, president of SIAM and CEO of TVS Suzuki will be writing to CSE shortly.

CSE feels very strongly on the issue and conveyed this to SIAM, “It is difficult to carry on a dialogue and reach any agreement on the actions needed if the industry chooses to close its mind to new information. For any meaningful discussion the automobile manufacturers must at least be prepared to initiate a structured dialogue with other actors in the Indian society. Till now, the only attitude has been to dismiss whatever any other party has to say.”

CSE has investigated the issue and worked hard to document evidence from studies on the limits to diesel technology and the risk that diesel particles pose to public health, industry cannot brush that aside and undercut the debate by flaunting such flimsy accusations.

Industry would do well to take a firm stand and not confuse an already complex issue. It is time that SIAM made its stand on diesel known and participated in a structured dialogue on the issue.

The following is cse ’s Our Right to Clean Air campaign director Anumita Roychowdhury’s point by point rejoinder to Shah’s letters. Extracts from his letters are in bold print.

“Anil Agarwal’s contentions (CSE monograph Engines of the Devil) and your report on it (ET Mumbai 28 June: Dieselisation to choke Delhi) are deceptive and misleading. They also lack a perspective on Delhi’s life and livelihood issues.”

It seems Shah, overzealous in defending the ‘devil’ in the diesel, has lost his own “perspective on Delhi’s life...” which he has accused us of. Cynics such as Shah, quite erroneously think that the debate on dieselisation begins with the petrol vs diesel dispute. If only he had attempted to read our report carefully he would have understood that the debate begins with the poisonous air that we breathe in Delhi and our special concern for the dangerous levels of particulate pollution and risk it poses to public health. Delhi today faces a serious challenge of reducing particulate pollution by as much as 90 per cent.

“It is again on the Supreme Court records that light diesel vehicles contribution to Delhi’s spm and So 2 emissions is less than 0.29 per cent and the entire transport sectors contributions is less than 16 per cent. ”

It is wrong to confuse people by saying that vehicles contribute even less than 16 per cent of the total suspended particulate matter in Delhi and overlook studies which show that with smaller particles the share of vehicular emissions only increases. We must open our minds to new information emerging from studies such as that being done in uk which has established that decreasing the particulate size only increases their lethal nature. About 90 per cent of the diesel particles are extremely tiny