In an attempt to curb alarming levels of pollution, the Delhi government announced the mandatory scrapping of diesel cars more than 10 years old and petrol cars more than 15 years old. Image Credit: Reuters

I must begin with two true stories, both rather unhappy ones. A close relative, who retired as CEO of a multinational, got a top-of-the-line BMW as part of his severance package. But hardly had he enjoyed it for five years before the Delhi government, acting on the directions of its Green Tribunal, announced the compulsory scrapping of diesel cars more than 10 years old and petrol cars more than 15 years old.

A few years later, with just two years of his dream machine’s newly reduced life left, its once proud owner was compelled to dispose of it at a throwaway price. The buyer, a broker, transferred its registration to Punjab, where there was no 10-year rule. Now a rich landowning gentleman farmer drives the Beamer, which he got at a quarter of the market rate. The middleman also laughed his way to the bank. The only one shedding tears is the retired CEO, who was denied the rewards of his success.

How a parked car ended in a scrapyard

Whether or not a 10-year-old BMW or Mercedes in top condition is as polluting as a badly maintained bus or truck plying day and night was not a question our lawmakers or bureaucrats asked. The irrationality of their policy, not to speak of its invasive and coercive nature, also did not seem to bother them. “Green bullying,” some would call it, but like it or not, the policy is now law.

Which brings me to my second anecdote, even sadder than the first. An elderly couple found that their 15-year-old petrol car parked in front of their home had gone missing. They live in a Delhi Development Authority colony, so their car was not parked on the public street. When they went to file a police complaint for theft, they found out that the car had been sent to the scrapyard. With no notice or warning. Even when it was stationary. In a campaign by a leading news channel against such highhandedness, the couple was shown in tears on national television complaining that they would not be able to afford a new car. Their single-driven car had done only 20,000km and was in excellent condition.

The government has no right to force car owners to scrap their vehicles, especially if they are still functional and compliant with the emission norms.


India is perhaps the only country in the world that has such a bizarre mandatory car scrapping policy. Privately owned cars are treated on par with light or heavy commercial vehicles and buses. Even when studies have shown that the latter are far more polluting than the former. The vehicle’s roadworthiness is not taken into account, only its age.

The government claims that this policy aims to reduce air pollution and promote the use of cleaner and more efficient vehicles. However, this coercive intervention in the property rights of its citizens is not only anti-democratic but also evidentially deficient.

No infrastructure to scrap old vehicles

Studies have shown that the emission performance of vehicles depends not so much on their age but on their maintenance and usage patterns. In fact, the quality of fuel matters as much as the make and efficiency of the car’s engine. Imposing a blanket ban on older cars is arbitrary and unfair because it penalises responsible car owners who keep their vehicles in good condition.

Secondly, the policy ignores the environmental costs of scrapping old vehicles and producing new ones. Scrapping the estimated 1.5 million old jalopies will generate a colossal amount of waste, which needs to be disposed of properly to avoid causing further pollution and health hazards. According to a report by the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA), India does not have adequate infrastructure or regulations for safe and scientific scrapping of old vehicles. Moreover, producing new vehicles consumes a lot of energy and resources and emits greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. According to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), manufacturing a new car emits about 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which is equivalent to driving it for about two years. Therefore, replacing old cars with new ones may not necessarily reduce the overall environmental impact of the transport sector.

read more

Thirdly, the policy violates the basic principles of a free and fair democratic society by interfering with the property rights and choices of car owners. The government has no right to force car owners to scrap their vehicles, especially if they are still functional and compliant with the emission norms. The policy also distorts the market signals and incentives for car manufacturers and consumers by creating an artificial demand for new cars and reducing the supply of old ones.

This may lead to higher prices for new cars and lower resale values for old ones, affecting the affordability and accessibility of mobility for millions of Indians. The policy also creates opportunities for corruption and rent-seeking, as owners are forced to fork out fines or bribes while brokers buy Delhi cars at knock-down rates to sell them off elsewhere, thereby reducing neither the pollution nor the number of old cars in the country.

Why retrofitting older cars is a non-starter

The Delhi government has announced a policy of retrofitting older vehicles into battery-run EVs. This policy aims to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the use of clean energy in the transport sector. However, the policy is a non-starter because there are no authorised retrofitters in Delhi. Also, converting a petrol or diesel car into an electric one is not only very expensive but also environmentally unfriendly because batteries are polluting too. The hurdles in getting incentives for scrapping old cars, though well-intentioned, are also many. For instance, a friend told me that he couldn’t apply on the national portal because his fully-paid-up old car still showed as hypothecated to a bank. To remove the lien was now “impossible” because the registration of his car was deemed expired.

Finally, stubble burning in neighbouring states such as Punjab and Haryana is far more polluting than older vehicles playing on Delhi roads. But that is a politically sensitive topic. Controlling farmers is difficult, but coercing middle-class, law-abiding citizens is relatively easier. Under the guise of checking pollution, India’s vehicular policy has ended up helping automakers, besides collecting taxes from manufacturers and helpless consumers. The consumer pays at all ends.