Technical Problem!

Procedural delays on the part of implementing agencies will ensure that the Supreme Court deadline for the conversion of old Delhi Transport Corporation buses to compressed natural gas will not be met

By Lopamudra Banerjee
Published: Wednesday 15 December 1999

Technical Problem!

-- in all probability, the Delhi government is going to miss the bus. With only five months left for the expiry of the Supreme Court's (sc's) deadline to convert 1,800 diesel buses which are more than eight years old to compressed natural gas (cng), the possibility of its implementation seems very remote. Till now, precious little has been done to frame the rules and regulations for the conversion of old buses. It is anybody's guess how the government will meet another deadline -- to convert the entire fleet of 7,000 buses and an additional 3,000 private buses to cng by April 2001.

Under pressure, the Delhi government sought for an extension of the deadline on October 4, 1999. Additional Solicitor General, Kirit Raval, wishing for a relaxation, pleaded that it would cost a lot of money to convert the old buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (dtc). While rejecting the argument Chief Justice H L Anand said: "We will not give any ruling that will bring back the condition of pollution that existed prior to the order." This was the second attempt by the Delhi government to dilute the Court order on cng. Earlier this year, dtc filed an affidavit asking for more time and a relaxation in the Court order on cng.
Heights of procrastination There has been stiff resistance to the process of conversion and certification of old buses from the very start. The ministry of surface transport (mst), on its part, failed to put in place a system of certification and rules for registration of converted buses to speed up implementation of the Supreme Court's verdict. "Instead of expediting matters they are only busy discussing snags," says Anumita Roychowdury, a researcher with the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental organisation (see box: Progress report ).

Though many cars and taxis have also been converted to cng , they were not required to change the engine systems. But in the case of a bus, a diesel engine must be first converted into a spark ignition engine and further modified. Therefore, the engine system needs to be tested and certified all over again. Rules for testing this kind of conversion have still not been framed.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are not too keen to undertake the conversion of very old buses. "Conversion of buses more than eight years old does not make economic sense as other aggregates such as transmission and axles would still be old and might cause frequent breakdowns," says R Ramakrishnan, technical adviser with Ashok Leyland. Only New Delhi-based company, Rare Technologies, has expressed its willingness to undertake the conversion of old dtc buses but this effort can be wasted if the government fails to lay down proper procedures for certification of converted buses.

In April, Rare Technologies converted two pre-1991 dtc buses. As per the letter of intent from dtc, they were required to get these tested by the Indian Institute of Petroleum (iip), Dehradun. But allowing them to ply on the road led to a serious procedural muddle.

The matter reached a flash point when Parvez Hashmi, Delhi's transport minister, called a meeting on August 24, 1999 of all the stakeholders and sought intervention from the Environment Pollution (Protection and Control) Authority (epca), a committee constituted by the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of all its orders in connection with pollution. The meeting was called to examine the reasons for the delay in conversions and to expedite the whole process of moving to cng. It was attended by members of epca, Gas Authority of India Limited (gail), sta, dtc, mst, iip and Rare Technologies.

The meeting led to a more perplexing situation with respect to conversion of old dtc buses. Though gail guaranteed an adequate supply of cng, Rare Technologies, accomplished the conversion of a 1990 model diesel bus to cng and iip completed the preliminary tests on it, no action was taken on the certification of these buses. Though iip, one of the four authorised testing agencies had already sent the preliminary results of their testing to Parvez Hashmi on August 3, 1999, it was unable to certify the converted bus because rules for certification were not drawn up by the mst, though provisional emission norms were issued.

Realising that certification was the major obstacle to conversion of old buses, iip was directed by the epca and Parvez Hashmi on August 24 to complete the testing of the converted buses and submit the final results by September 15. It was decided that a preliminary certificate would be issued at the earliest enabling the converted buses to ply on the roads. Thereafter, a provisional certificate was issued to the two converted buses of Rare Technology on September 10, 1999 which is valid for three months during which time mst is expected to come up with detail procedures for certification. If mst fails to do so, then the two buses will be taken off the road and this will jeopardise conversion of other old buses.

Clearly, mst is in no mood to hurry. Surprisingly, mst held another meeting with all the stakeholders a week later on September 2 on the grounds that "there are certain points (in the iip emission test report) on which detailed clarifications are necessary both from the converting company (Rare Technologies) and the testing agency."

But at this meeting K R Bhati, joint secretary, mst, was reported to have taken up the issue of provisional certification discussed with the epca in the earlier meeting on August 24. According to one of the participants, Bhati is reported to have said, "There is no provision for a preliminary or provisional certification in Central Motor Vehicles Act (cmva) and no such permission can be given". mst had even advised the Delhi government to file an affidavit in the sc for extension of the deadline.

At the meeting, mst did not discuss any deadline for notifying testing and certifying procedures for converted cng buses, which was its primary responsibility. It was at this stage that iip pointed out that other tests such as safety had not been conducted on the vehicles as this was not in the range of their testing infrastructure. Testing the vehicles for safety is important as the cng cylinders are heavy and holes have to be drilled in the chassis. The old dtc buses might not be able to sustain these changes. Subsequently, a third meeting was called, this time by the Automotive Research Association of India (arai) on September 22, 1999, to discuss certification and testing of converted cng buses.

The mst in any case should have been ready with the rules and regulations by now for converted cng buses. In fact, Section 52 of the cmva, which deals with the process of certification and registration of altered vehicles, states "... modification of the engine, or any part thereof, of a vehicle for facilitating its operation by a different type of fuel or source of energy, including battery, compressed natural gas, solar power, or any other fuel source of energy other than liquid petroleum gas shall be treated as an alteration but that shall be subject to such conditions as may be prescribed." This section was included in the cmva in 1994.

The onus is now on mst to ensure that a proper certification system for converted old buses is put in place fast so that the concerned agencies can go about their business of converting all the 1,800 buses by what now looks like a remotely possible deadline. Parvez Hashmi has gone on record to say that Rs 240 crore has been set aside for buying new cng buses. This amount can very well cover the cost of converting all the 7,000 buses at the rate of Rs 3,00,000 per bus by the deadline and also the purchase of new cng buses. Not only did dtc fail to give its old buses for conversion on time, it also kept the private bus owners -- plying under their kilometre scheme -- in the dark about the court order. The notification came as late as October 1999. The State Transport Authority (sta) did not even bother to inform the private busowners about the Court order. At every stage delays have occurred as the implementing agencies concerned have been busy finding snags in the system rather than solutions to the problem.

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