he Supreme Court has reaffirmed that buses in Delhi shall
use only CNG as fuel, and this has started off another round of anti
and pro-CNG debates.
This is unfortunate. To be fair, one
must look not only at the pollution caused per vehicle but also at
the pollution caused per passenger transported over a
This is why it is very important that fuel
policies must be accompanied by other policies that ensure that use
of public transport does not decrease.
Our estimates show
that even if all buses in Delhi used CNG, and if only 5 per cent
people stopped using buses and shifted to private modes, total
carbon monoxide and hydro-carbon pollution would increase by 10-20
If 15 per cent of bus users start using
two-wheelers then the particulate pollution will also increase even
if all buses use CNG.
A recent study by Lew Fulton of the
International Energy Agency states that “Dramatic reductions in road
space, fuel use, and most emissions can be achieved just with
(shifts to) standard buses… The additional reduction from improving
this bus is mostly trivial, except in the case of NOX and to a
lesser extent particulate matter.”
What Dr Fulton is saying
is that pollution reductions are very significant if you use large
vehicles instead of small vehicles like two-wheelers, cars and vans.
Newspaper reports in Delhi suggest a large number of
families have already formed car pools to transport their children
to school as bus fares have increased. Similarly, many others who
were using chartered buses to go to work have reverted to their cars
A very large number of rural transport
vehicles have been introduced in Delhi because they come equipped
with CNG engines.
But these vehicles carry only 12
passengers. So instead of using one engine (in a bus) to transport
60-80 people we will be using 6 engines on the roads of
These changes will increase pollution, congestion and
accidents. While other cities are trying to get rid of vans and
mini-buses, we are bringing in new ones!
We will now have the
bus fleet of Delhi operating on outdated engine technology but using
CNG as a fuel.
Further, all 10,000 buses in Delhi will be of
the same age and preclude us from adopting new engine technologies
or fuels as they develop over the next ten years.
buses will have the same old truck chassis with high floors instead
of convenient low floor modern urban buses with automatically
closing doors for the next 10 years.
This one decision has
the potential of destroying the public transport facility of Delhi
for a very long time to come.
Policies that are complex in
nature should never be put in place through antagonistic processes
like courts. Such processes end up destroying institutions,
governance procedures and trust in systems.
under the chairmanship of Dr R M Mashelkar, Director-General, CSIR
had very sensibly recommended that the government should only
specify the quality of the exhaust to be emitted by the bus and not
When this is done, everyone competes to give you
the most efficient engine at the lowest price that meets the
emission norms. They also suggested a phase in timetable so that we
don’t have all buses of the same vintage.
of this committee seem to have been ignored. This is a very serious
matter. No one questions the fact that Dr Mashelkar is one of the
most outstanding scientists in India. I have also never heard any
backroom chat questioning his integrity.
But when his
committee report is ignored, it puts into disrepute the competence
of such scientists in the country and questions his competence and
No society can do well and take well thought out
decisions when we promote such cynicism among the public.
author is with Transportation Research, IIT