Wednesday, April 17, 2002  |  Updated at 09:40 hrs
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CNG: A big mistake?


 [ TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2002  12:19:00 AM ]
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 kilometre.

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 per cent.

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 and two-wheelers.

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 Delhi.

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We will now have the bus fleet of Delhi operating on outdated engine technology but using CNG as a fuel.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.

All these 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.

The committee 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 the fuel.

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.

The recommendations 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 integrity.

No society can do well and take well thought out decisions when we promote such cynicism among the public.
(The author is with Transportation Research, IIT Delhi)
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