It's money, honey

Monday 15 October 2001

Auto drivers in Delhi will soon realise that CNG makes for good economics

auto drivers in Delhi are on a high. They think that the Supreme Court's ruling of September 17 that gives them the option of using clean petrol is a great reprieve from long queues for compressed natural gas (cng). They are also angry and want to sue the Delhi government for misinterpreting the original court order and misleading them about converting the entire fleet to cng . Little do they realise that they are rejoicing without a cause.

The euphoria is bound to be short-lived when they confront the hard economics of the petrol option. The Supreme Court has said that petrol auto will have to be four-stroke and low on benzene. In any case only two-stroke engines power the old fleet in Delhi and there are very few petrol four-stroke autos. The old two-stroke two-wheelers will in any case have to be replaced with new four-stroke autos. Add to this is the higher fuel cost of petrol.

Fuel cost is a mere 33 paise per kilometre for cng compared to Rs 1.05 per km for petrol (see table: Still a bargain). If they opt out of the cng option they will only let a win-win situation slip out of their hands. Not only does cng make great economic sense it also is more effective in controlling pollution. cng autos have already achieved emissions levels that are far lower than the norms prescribed for petrol autos. cng autos emit only 0.29 grammes of carbon monoxide (co) per km (gm/km) against the norm of 2.25 gm/km and 0.29 gm of hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxides per kilometre as against the norm of 2 gm/km.

We need to support alternative fuel strategies like cng to leapfrog into new and much cleaner technology, simply because our pollution problems are far more severe. Here lies the lesson for the government. Delhi government must not let this transitional problem of cng supply confuse its priorities.

It would be wrong at this stage to allow registration of petrol four-stroke autos only meeting Bharat stage I norms. The Delhi government would be well advised to insist on standards tighter than the Bharat stage I norms for three-wheelers, keeping in line with other segments of vehicles that have moved one step ahead of the Bharat stage I norms. Auto wallas once having sensed the economic advantage of running cng autos may still want to go the cng way if the current mess is cleared up but in that process the government must not step back.

Still a bargain
The running cost of a CNG auto is less than half that of a petrol auto. Thus it will always be more profitable to use CNG

Fuel Price (Rupees) Kilometerage (Kilometres per unit of fuel) Price per Km (Rupees)
CNG 12.20 per Kg 37.5 per Kg 0.33
Petrol 28.84 per Litre 27.5 per Litre 1.05

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