By Stella Paul
NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - Surindra Kumar, 42, is a lucky man. Despite driving an open-air tuk tuk taxi around the city for eight hours a day, his exposure to the city’s notorious air pollution is less than that faced by many taxi drivers and errand runners. The reason? His tuk tuk runs on rechargeable batteries and emits none of the usual black smoke.
Kumar, employed by the Delhi-based Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), says the past six years spent driving his battery-powered vehicle have been a pleasure.
“It doesn’t feel like I am driving a car,” he said. “There is no engine, no smoke and no noise.”
Kumar’s happiness is perhaps what Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the head of TERI, has in mind when he says that “adopting cleaner technology has many co-benefits.”
At a recent sustainable development summit organized by TERI in Delhi, Pachauri said the financial advantages of adopting cleaner technology are sometimes hard to pin down precisely, but the range of benefits provided by such technology are more than simply financial.
“You can not quantify all the benefits; some of them can bring direct profits, while some can improve the quality of life. People of India must consider those factors as well while assessing the benefits (of sustainable development),” Pachauri said.
At the summit, experts stressed the urgency of shifting to more sustainable development patterns, including cleaner transport.
“We need to focus on how to reduce emissions, increase fuel efficiency and bring about electric mobility,” urged M.F. Farooqui, secretary of India’s Union Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.
FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES
Shifting India toward cleaner and greener transport, however, will almost certainly require dismantling the country’s generous subsidies on fossil fuel, which allow Delhi’s legions of drivers to purchase petrol at a cost below the market price.
That has slowed efforts to shift to cleaner transport, despite efforts to also provide vehicle manufacturers with incentives to build electric cars.
In September 2012, India’s National Council for Electric Mobility, a ministerial group, asked the government for over $1.6 million in subsidies to promote the use of electric-powered vehicles in India over the next eight years.
But Montek Singh Ahluwalia, chairperson of the Planning Commission of India, said the effort was unlikely to work as long as subsidies on oil and petrol remain in place. He urged the government to avoid subsidies of all kinds.
“Many people think that subsidising renewable energy equipments is good for the economy. They think only the fossil fuel subsidy is bad. They are wrong,” he said. “If India wants to attain green growth, it has to stop all subsidies” and ensure businesses pay their fair share of taxes, he said.
Peter Bakker, president of World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a Geneva-based organization that encourages investment in sustainable business models, said he thinks what India needs is to support and promote a popular movement toward renewable energy as a sensible and sustainable choice.
“Look at the mobile phone sector,” he said. “India has just jumped on the wagon in the past decade and the result is there for all to see. Not only has it created the biggest market ever for mobile phone business houses, but also given easy access to its vast population to the technology. And this happened without any subsidy.”
“If India could jump on the green technology wagon this way, if every Indian could be this passionate about renewable energy, all the other problems would fade away,” Bakker predicted.
According to a study done by the Delhi-based Energy and Research Institute in 2012, heavy pollution in Delhi – in part the result of emissions from vehicles – is leaving residents vulnerable to a wide range of respiratory diseases, ranging from bronchitis and asthma to lung infections and birth defects.
Stella Paul is an environment and development journalist based in Hyderabad, India. Twitter: @stellasglobe