Is everything old actually bad?


So now, the RTO, in all its wisdom, has declared that all vehicles older than 15 years will have to pay 'green tax'. Although I do not know how much car owners will have to shell out, motorcyclists will have to cough up about 2400 rupees every time they get their bikes checked for road worthiness at intervals of 5 years.

I have a few questions, though. For one, just how much do older vehicles contribute to the current traffic chaos that afflicts a city like Bombay? The answer, in case you're wondering, is next to nothing.

Secondly, most people who use these older vehicles are folks who cannot afford something current. For example, most of the old Bajaj Chetaks that I see on the road today (and yes, there aren't many out there anymore) are ridden by older gentlemen who are either content with their lot or cannot possibly afford to upgrade to a car. What's more, an old Chetak isn't worth more than 2000 rupees today, and yet, the Government decides to force you into paying a tax that exceeds the cost of your vehicle.

Thirdly, from what I have come to understand, by paying the stipulated green tax, you are paying the Government for the pollution that your vehicle causes. If that is the case, then why do the authorities demand that you get a PUC certificate every 6 months?

Some might argue that the Government, with our interests at heart, is right in arm twisting people into scrapping their older vehicles in order to decrease pollution. However, that logic, just as right as it seems, is equally flawed in my opinion. The air has never been filthier and never has the city choked like it currently does. Having said that, here are my arguments.

Let us consider Bombay's iconic Padmini taxis for argument number one. The  cabs older than 25 years have already been forcibly taken off the roads and chopped by the scrapers. The ones that remain, are staring at certain death which is to come very soon. In their places, new cars have been repainted yellow and black and pressed into taxi duties. Forget about the fact that these new cars cannot take the abuse the Padminis used to made a small task out of and also forget about the fact that their boots won't take in anything more than a coke bottle after the space taken up by the CNG/LPG tank. Let's talk about environmental damage, shall we?

Does scrapping of older cars reduce the carbon footprint? Not quite, as I see it. Scrapping a car utilizes energy and generates all sorts of noxious substances. And the production of energy results in pollution, especially in a country like India that gets most of its electricity from the burning of coal. Now, manufacturing a brand new car utilises energy too. And there are all sorts of effluents being produced simultaneously during production, no matter how clean the factory's technology might be.

Today, modern electronic components aren't as repair friendly as their older mechanical counterparts. For example, older mechanical fuel pumps were repairable, with their individual components like diaphragms that used to be easily available in the spares market. Now, when the new age electrical fuel pumps conk off, you simply have to chuck them out and get a new one fitted. Since you're scrapping a component that used to be perfectly serviceable, plus manufacturing and transporting that new part, this raises the carbon footprint substantially. Repairing is always easier on the environment than replacing, and that is a known fact.

Okay, so maybe that the government wants all old bikes and cars off the road in light of the current fuel crisis. Okay, so how much does a modern 100cc four-stroke motorcycle return to a litre in realistic urban traffic conditions? About 40 km to a litre. And how much does a well maintained and softly ridden RX 100 return to a litre of petrol? I've known some examples to run in excess of 35 km on a single litre. So where is the progress, where is the fuel efficiency and where is the cost effectiveness? You got rid of your old stroker that was both charming and rev happy for a dull, sterile piece of plastic and that too, you paid through your nose for the new commuter and sold the older one to the scrapper for dirt. To add to that, the costs of spares for the new bike will be much higher than those for the old girl, as if to add to your woes.

All of this raises more than a few doubts in my head. Sometime ago, entire civilisations thought the earth was flat because some guy who was at the helm of things told them so. Similarly, all these moves to scrap older vehicles seems knee jerk and illogical, if not short sighted. Imagine the sheer damage to our planet if all older vehicles were to be scrapped and new ones were to be manufactured to take their place. To me, the need of the hour is to make the current IC engine cleaner and more efficient. Retrofit our Bombay taxis with cleaner engines. Develop technologies to make older engines run greener rather than smelting all of them instead.  We desperately need a drastic rethink on this issue and we needed to do that yesterday!