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Will India follow China's footsteps?
Mon, 3 Mar Pre-Open

Chinese and Indian cities are known for having some of the most polluted air in the world. It's likely you would have heard about Beijing's severe smog; but it seems that Delhi is no different. And this situation is only likely to get worse.

One of the reason for Delhi's pollution being as bad as Beijing is the smog created from cars and trucks running on cheap diesel. In Delhi over 1,400 vehicles are being added to the city every day. India subsidizes sales of the fuel to the equivalent of US $15 bn a year, encouraging purchases of diesel vehicles that can pump out exhaust gases with 10 times the carcinogenic particles found in gasoline exhausts.

What may be worrisome about the air pollution is that nobody's talking about it. While China has come under increasing pressure to clean up its act-both from within and outside the country, Delhites have other problems on their mind. Neither the residents nor local government have air pollution in their agendas.

But given the rising economic cost and pollution, this option of doing nothing cannot be acceptable anymore. The options are to either to equate the price and emission standards or to ban production of personal diesel vehicles. If this is not possible, then the new government should in the coming budget tax diesel vehicles to remove the existing fiscal distortion in price and policy.

Two things are certain. India's air quality is among the worst in the world, and is urgently in the need of robust policy and enforcement solutions to clean the air. China has also launched aggressive control measures, from limiting the number of cars that ply its roads to sanctioning punishments against factories that fail environmental standards. India, however, has seen little action since enacting a set of reforms over a decade ago, which included moving industry beyond city limits and switching public transportation to cleaner-burning fuel.

The scale for tackling this has to be increased. From buses to metro, there needs to be a nuanced approach to deal with air pollution. We only seem to have structures and policies based on private vehicles and cars. A complete paradigm shift is needed.

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