The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) recently released a letter addressing the concerns of the owners of vintage and classic automobiles (‘historic vehicles’ is now the preferred terminology), which will make it possible for the owners of automobiles which are more than 50 years of age to be used occasionally for events and exhibitions. This proposed exception runs contrary to the ever-increasing desire and objective to keep older (and thus more polluting) vehicles off the roads of our cities.
On 29 October 2018, the Supreme Court prohibited the plying of vehicles, which were more than 15-years old for petrol-powered, and more than 10-years old for diesel-powered, in the national capital region (NCR), around Delhi.
Earlier, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had also proposed such a ban, and the apex court rejected a plea against the NGT’s order. The precedent, which has been set in Delhi, may influence similar decisions in other major cities of India, as most of the bigger Indian cities are some of the most polluted places in the world.
The fact that there are more than a billion automobiles on Planet Earth, contributing to almost 75% of carbon monoxide emissions, is a piece of data, which cannot be denied. Neither can the data that in most congested cities, automobiles may be contributing to over half the emission, thereby harming the health of the inhabitants.
Not surprisingly, most of the major cities of the world are instituting the concept of low emission zones (LEZs) for their cities to bring down pollution. This is brought about by restricting the use of vehicles, more specifically, the older ones, as they pollute more. For instance, Paris does not allow vehicles older than 20 years to ply in the city during peak hours – from 8am to 8pm during the five working days of the week.
Initially the plan was to ban the use of all vehicles above the age of 20 entirely, through the week, not unlike what has been ordained in NCR.
The Fédération Française des Véhicules d’Epoque (FFVE), which is the federation that unites all the clubs and historic vehicle owners and enthusiasts (some 250,000 of them, owning over 800,000 vehicles) in France, with the help of the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), the international federation of historic vehicle owners worldwide, approached the mayor of Paris.
The mayor, Anne Hidalgo, was also made aware of the fact that UNESCO had recognized FIVA as a non-governmental partner. It did not take much to convince her that the ban should be, at most restricted to 12 hours (8am-8pm) per day, for the five working days of the week, when traffic is at its maximum.
The mayor of Paris, as well as most government authorities in Europe recognise that automobiles above the age of 30 years cannot be one, which is in use extensively, and thus realise that the extent to which historic vehicles pollute is indeed minuscule (by one calculation, not even 0.8% of global vehicular pollution). At the same time, there are restrictions to vehicular age of commercial use automobiles: for instance, taxis in Paris cannot be more than seven years old.
The proposed exception by the MoRTH in India is for vehicles, which are more than 50 years old. The 15-50 years gap will be terrible for all historic vehicles in the 30-50 years lot, and a significant chunk of India’s historic vehicles are amongst them: the early Maruti 800s, Ambassadors, Premiers, the Hindustan Contessas, the Standard 2000s, as well as Kinetic Hondas and Yamaha RX100s.
In Europe, much greater importance has been for the vehicles manufactured within the country – these are the vehicles, which are truly historic for the country. Unfortunately, many of the elitist enthusiasts in India tend to dismiss our own history.
The estimates are that around 20 million vehicles are more than 15 years old, in India. Of these, it may not be amiss to assume that, at best, only five percent are more than 30 years of age, which would still be as many as a million cars and two-wheelers (the latter perhaps representing more than three quarters of the total). Yet the numbers for the total fleet, which is more than 50 years of age, probably falls to just 25,000, at most. Which would mean that as many as 975,000 vehicles are in peril.
It may be worth noting that in the United Kingdom, the population of historic vehicles, which are more than 30 years old, is 1.2 million, and is valued at £17.8 Billion (about Rs167,000 crore)! Even if the worth of historic vehicles in India is just a fraction of the aforementioned figure, imagine the opportunity lost cost of 975,000 automobiles destroyed?
Most European countries, as well as the US (which has an estimated 25 million historic vehicles in the country) and several other nations recognise the importance and value of the world’s industrial history, and the fact that to keep these vehicles “alive” they need to be driven, even if occasionally. It is important for us as a nation to learn from them, and not from China, which has systematically destroyed its history at every level (even the Chinese recognise their mistakes).
Intelligent and sensible solutions are available, and it is important to consider them to preserve our motoring heritage, as well as address the serious issues of emission and the wellbeing of all Indian citizens.
(Author of several automotive books, founder editor of many leading auto mags, Gautam Sen has also consulted with most of the Indian auto majors. He has also worked with several leading car designers such as Gérard Godfroy, Tom Tjaarda and Marcello Gandini, among others.