As the deadline for converting all public passenger transport to cng by September 30, 2001, gets closer, the Union minister for petroleum and natural gas Ram Naik, in charge of gas supply in the country, is out to raise more uncertainties to undermine consumer confidence in the cng market. The disinterest of his ministry in implementing the cng order is fully exposed. Naik, desperate to cover his ministry's track, is trying all devious means to decimate the cng market. He has threatened to increase the price of cng and is trying to pull off a bogey that there is not enough gas for transport. Naik is still hoping that he would succeed in getting Euro ii diesel classified as clean fuel, and then do nothing extra than what is already available in the market.
While Naik's ministry is not at all interested in dealing with long lines for cng by augmenting supply, it is busy creating more uncertainties and the brunt of the confusion is being borne by the cng users in Delhi. Yet none of his contentions stand to scrutiny. His bid to raise prices, ostensibly on account of large investments and losses by the Indraprastha Gas Ltd ( igl ), defies logic. This is hard to believe given the very high level of demand for cng. The Annual Report of the igl shows that the company has been making a profit since its inception. It had a net profit of Rs 40.5 lakh in 1999-2000 and Rs 1.8 crore in 2000-2001. While Naik wags the cost tag he does not link it with the countervailing health costs of air pollution, conservatively estimated by the World Bank at Rs 1,000 crore per annum for Delhi.
Naik cannot convince either that there is not enough gas. Even as the transport sector is starved for cng , piped gas is being supplied to hotels and affluent households where substituting lpg with natural gas will not make any difference to the air pollution levels. There are many precedents now that show that big industry groups like Reliance and Essar, and even the prime minister's constituency have been allocated more gas on request. It is strange that Naik should cry foul when under the aegis of his own ministry massive expansion plans for gas pipelines are afoot. Instead of adding to the confusion Naik should be serious about improving gas supply in the Capital and not bedevil the apex court's effort to clean up the city's air .