Surge in clean fuel prices may hurt Delhi’s air pollution fight

Commission for Air Quality Management had earlier directed industries to switch to clean fuel 

By Shreya Verma
Published: Thursday 13 October 2022
Industries are one of the primary air pollution contributors in Delhi-NCR. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Deteriorating air quality is synonymous with Delhi winters. Though there are several reasons for poor air quality in the national capital region (NCR), industries — one of the primary air pollution contributors — are finding it difficult to switch to cleaner fuels due to price hikes. 

Central pollution monitoring body Commission for Air Quality Management had earlier issued orders for industries to switch to clean fuel. Emissions due to the use of polluting fuels by industries and vehicles contribute significantly to the degradation of air quality in Delhi-NCR

CAQM shared a list of approved fuels June 23, 2022. The list came into effect for areas with existing PNG infrastructure and supply October 1, 2022. For areas without piped natural gas (PNG) supply, the list will come into effect January 1, 2023. 

The commission approved petrol and diesel for vehicular fuel; hydrogen and methane for industrial and vehicular fuel; and compressed natural gas (CNG), PNG, liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas for vehicular, industrial and domestic purposes.  

Electricity was approved for industrial, commercial, domestic and vehicular fuel and biofuels and refuse-derived fuel for power, cement and waste-to-energy plants. 

Read more: In Delhi, deadly air pollution is never out of season

Firewood and biomass can be used for religious purposes, wood and bamboo charcoal for tandoors and grills of hotels, restaurants and banquet halls with emission channelisation and control systems. Wood and bamboo charcoal are permitted at open eateries and dhabas too. 

Wood charcoal for cloth ironing and electricity, CNG, firewood and biomass briquettes can be used for crematoria. Biomass, agriculture refuse, pellets, briquettes, metallurgical coke and low-sulphur fuel, can be used for industrial purposes only beyond the jurisdiction of Delhi government.

However, the increasing rates of natural gas and biomass make implementing CAQM’s direction grim. In the table below, we can see the hike in biomass prices, which is around a 28 per cent increase over the last three years. 



Biomass Price/Kg


Rs 3-5


Rs 5-6


Rs 5-7



The above graph shows the steep increase in PNG prices in Haryana, which is almost doubled (42 per cent) in the last three years. In Uttar Pradesh, PNG prices are doubled (52 per cent) in the last three years. There are similar patterns of prices rising (46 per cent) in Delhi and in Rajasthan (39 per cent rise).

Non-profit Centre for Science and Environment conducted a study on “Assessment of Industrial air pollution in Delhi-NCR” in the year 2020. 

The total consumption of coal by industries was around 1.4 million tonnes/year in seven districts (Alwar, Bhiwadi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Panipat and Sonipat) of NCR, the study highlighted. After this study, CAQM removed the use of coal from the approved fuel list for NCR.

Soaring fuel prices

The rising prices of biomass and PNG are hitting the industries badly and, in return, can affect their production capacity and the country's economic growth. 

The government October 1, 2022 raised the prices of gas produced from old fields, which make up for about two-thirds of all gas produced in the country. It was hiked from $6.1 per million British thermal units to $8.57 per million British thermal units, according to oil ministry’s Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC). 

One of the biggest solutions for clean air is the transition to cleaner fuels. The transition to gas has been the key action taken by Beijing to reduce its air pollution. Changing the fuel itself led to massive air pollution benefits.

Read more: Massive exercise underway to map air pollution sources in Delhi

In fact, all industries will benefit from the transition to clean fuel as they would reduce the cost of air pollution control devices (APCD) and governments would also reduce the costs of regulation. 

There are also advantages to the economy from the use of natural gas — its use will be regulated and metred and therefore, industrial production will be better accounted for.

However, today looking at the increasing price of piped natural gas, it becomes difficult for industries to shift to natural gas and meet the CAQM deadline of January 1, 2023 for the areas where PNG is not available. Due to rising PNG prices, financially weak industries may be forced to shut down. 

On one side, we are putting efforts into making a clean environment by introducing and mandating the use of cleaner fuels and banning polluting fuels. On the other hand, increasing prices of cleaner fuel restrict the goal. 

Governments should consider subsidising rates of cleaner fuel. CSE has advocated for a long time to bring down the costs of clean fuel in the country and try to include it under the goods and services tax.

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