Indian Judiciary Prohibits Use of Pet Coke and Furnace Oil in New Delhi
India’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to ban the use of two popular, but environmentally more damaging alternatives to coal in New Delhi: petroleum coke (petcoke) and furnace oil. Industries in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan specifically are the focuses of the court order.
In light of reports of air pollution shooting up after Diwali, one of India’s most prominent national holidays, the Supreme Court evaluated the extent of the environmental harm caused by the industrious hubs’ release of toxic gases. These hubs emit dangerous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, through their use of petcoke and furnace oil as fuels, a source of particulate matter which could harm people’s lungs upon their inhalation.
Petcoke and furnace oil emissions are estimated at approximately 72,000 ppm and 23,000 ppm respectively, according to the EPCA (the Environmental Pollution Control Authority). This is an alarming issue in the context of India’s environmental regulation because the most recent data on air pollution in the National Capital Region, the area around New Delhi, demonstrate that around 10 people are killed each day due to respiratory-related issues. These worrying situations are partially caused by the enormous levels of pollution within the rapidly urbanizing area.
Though they were both informally banned in 1996 due to the growing environmental and health concerns mentioned above, petcoke and furnace oil have experienced continued popularity as alternative fuels to coal due to their inexpensiveness. In fact, as opponents of the Supreme Court decision note, given the energy industry’s reliance on petcoke and furnace oil, the order may lead to a downturn in small and medium-sized businesses that already operate on small margins yet employ millions of people. This is bad news for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose objective of increasing the number of jobs in India has already been subjected to obstacles, with unemployment being higher than it was prior to his election.
Additionally, given that furnace oil is currently used in 50-60% of industries, switching to different fuels will not only decrease economic gain, but it also represents a cumbersome task for small businesses in particular.
Despite the adverse economic implications arising in the court order, environmental activists such as Sunita Narain see the Supreme Court’s decision as a “big win for clean air,” not only in India, but in an international context, as it represents the first successful fight against petcoke. Petcoke is an extremely popular source of fuel around the world, despite the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy noting that it emits 11% more greenhouse gases than coal. But, India’s new step into a more environmentally conscious direction represents a big move in international regulation of the environment; it has the potential to spur other nations in the midst of urbanization and industrialization to take a step back and reflect upon the necessity of caring for the environment.
It’s still unclear just how effective the Supreme Court’s order will be in curbing the use of petcoke and furnace oil given their cost-effectiveness, but one idea remains certain: air pollution appears to finally be a priority in the Indian government’s agenda.