Why Is Delhi Choking? It’s Not What You Think! Two Wheelers Are a Major Culprit

"It is well known that two wheelers are predominantly the cause of vehicular pollution in Delhi," an expert said.

Climate Change
4 min read
Hindi Female

The majority of the pollution enveloping Delhi during the week of Diwali came from vehicles, indicated an analysis released by the think tank 'Centre for Science and Environment' (CSE) on Friday, 2 November - and a bulk of this automobile pollution was generated by two wheel vehicles in the city.

A statement by the CSE iterated:

"...if only Delhi’s local sources are considered, the transport sector topped the ranks, with vehicles contributing around half of the PM2.5 concentration from local sources. The indicative data shows that their daily share varied between 49.3 per cent and 53 per cent during that week."
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

In a city where two-wheelers make up 70 per cent of annual transport additions, it becomes important to examine their role in polluting Delhi's air.

"It is well known that two wheelers are predominantly the cause of vehicular pollution in Delhi," Vivek Chattopadhyay, Senior Programme Manager at CSE's Clean Air Programme told The Quint.

In the last few days, the national capital's Air Quality Index (AQI) touched alarming levels, with most parts of the city recording an AQI of over 400. On Friday, Delhi Chief Minister announced closure of all primary schools, as the city hurtled into a health crisis amidst rising pollution.


Two Wheelers: A Major Cause of Air Pollution

According to an 'Emission Inventory Study' published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) in 2018, transport was responsible for 28 per cent of PM2.5 load in Delhi winters of 2016.

Of that, trucks and two wheelers contributed the most at 8 and 7 per cent, respectively.

"It is well known that two wheelers are predominantly the cause of vehicular pollution in Delhi," an expert said.

Sub-sectoral contribution to PM2.5 in Delhi in winter 2016.

(Photo: Source Apportionment of PM2.5 & PM10 of Delhi NCR for Identification of Major Sources, 2018)

However, in recent times, trucks have shifted lower in the list of major pollutants.

"A lot of developments have happened in Delhi. Earlier there was no peripheral expressway, so, many trucks used to enter the city at night, but after the development of these expressways, as well as the imposition of environmental compensation charges, their share has gone down," Chattopadhyay stated.

He added that buses, too, have reduced in number in the city.

Why Do Two-Wheelers Pollute

Shedding light on why two wheelers have become such a major concern, the CSE researcher added, "two wheelers, since they are very high in numbers and comparatively, have weaker emissions standards than commercial car segments, emit higher amounts of pollutants."

Data, too, corroborates the exceptionally high number of two-wheelers in the city.

"Delhi records about 5 lakh new vehicles each year. In years 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, Delhi recorded about 10 lakh a year. In all these years, one common factor was that at least 70 per cent of the new additions were 2 wheelers, and 20-24 percent are cars. Rest all other vehicles make up around 8-10 percent."
Anannya Das

Therefore, the three major reasons behind their contribution to pollution which emerge are:

  • High quantity of two wheelers in the city

  • High number of older two-wheel vehicles (BS3 and BS4 which are more polluting than BS6) that still throng the city

  • Even newer two wheelers (with BS6) have weaker emission standards as compared to cars with new technology

What is the Government Doing?

So what is the government doing? and why are there so many two wheelers on the roads?

In his conversation with The Quint, Chattopadhyay underlined that in light of an insufficient public transportation strategy, the government has been unable to crack-down on two-wheelers as there is no other cost-effective and efficient alternative for it.

"The operational cost of two-wheelers is much less than buses and certainly less than the metro. Therefore, in order to tackle this, we need to make public transportation affordable," he iterated.

Furthermore, even though two wheelers are prime candidates for electrification, their numbers are still dwarfed by fuel-driven vehicles.

“EV numbers are continuously changing every month, but it is still nothing compared to the overall volume of vehicles,” Anannya Das, Programme Manager for Sustainable Mobility at CSE, told The Quint.

According to Chattopadhyay, the government needs to "conduct intensive programmes to ensure the quality of electric two wheelers so it becomes popular".

However, even the existing two wheelers on the roads are not free of predicaments, and people are averse to switching to newer vehicles with better, more environment-friendly technologies.

"The government has not declared the fuel efficiency and mileage standards of two and three wheelers. This is only being done for cars. Declaring these will ensure that the vehicles on the roads are made up of newer technologies," Chattopadhyay stressed.

(Our on-ground climate journalism needs your insights, ideas, and financial support - as we cover the biggest crisis of our times. Become a Q-Insider so we can bring more such stories to light. Click here to learn more)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)


Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from climate-change

Topics:  Air Pollution   Cars   Vehicles 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More