To clean up Delhi's air, the Supreme Court ruled in July 1998 that all public transport should move away from diesel and towards compressed natural gas (CNG) By March 31, 2001. But the Union government and the Delhi state government have done nothing apart from discrediting CNG. They are more bothered about petty industrial interests than the health and life of millions, using chaos in public transport as a weapon to pressurise the court. On February 16, 2001, the court refused to extend the deadline. DOWN TO EARTH summarises the non-controversy that Delhi faces today and most other big Indian cities are bound to face tomorrow
The CNG sabotage
Union ministry of surface transport
The Union ministry of surface transport (most) frames vehicular emission norms and notifies certification procedures for vehicles, as per the Central Motors Vehicles Act (cmva). The emission norms for converted cng buses were notified on February 9, 2000, more than one and half years after the sc order of July 28, 1998. That, too, after a great deal of hesitation. The ministry didn't set a deadline for itself to notify testing and certifying procedures for converted cng buses -- its primary responsibility. It should have been ready with the rules and regulations immediately after the order, especially because cng as an automotive fuel has been an option since 1994 under the cmva . Yet most did nothing to notify the procedures for safety testing, roadworthiness and certification for the past five years. The minister in charge when the process for drafting norms was to begin was Rajnath Singh, now the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The minister in charge now of most is B C Khanduri.
On February 22, 2000, Ashoke Joshi, secretary to most , wrote to the Environment Pollution (Protection and Control) Authority (epca), constituted to monitor the sc order's implementation and advise the court, saying that cng was too expensive an option. He argued in favour of improved diesel buses: "The majority of members present in the meeting (also attended by dtc representatives) were of the view that more economical and efficient route is to adopt emission norms akin to Euro ii for heavy vehicles." This comment shows that the Supreme Court order meant nothing for Joshi.
After complaints from the Delhi government and prodding by epca , most relented into a slow trot. But the process was already on the way to get derailed. The problem first surfaced when Rare Technologies, a Delhi-based company, converted two pre-1991 buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (dtc) in April 1999. The company was required to get these tested by the Indian Institute of Petroleum (iip) in Dehradun. iip tested the bus for only emissions but it could not certify those emissions as most had not spelt out the emission norms for converted buses. " most has not yet notified the emission norms and certification procedures," iip informed the Delhi transport minister, Parvez Hashmi. The epca took matters in its hands in July 1999. It held a series of meetings with all the stakeholders. Those who attended included the representatives of the Gas Authority of India Ltd (gail), State Transport Authority (sta), dtc , most , iip and Rare Technologies. It was clear that most was responsible for preventing the implementation of the order. The ministry's response -- or the lack of it -- for the next five months only shows that it just doesn't want to work.
Rare Technologies alleges that when taken to task, most sent a backdated letter to prove that it had already informed the testing agencies about provisional certification. Another letter from most , dated August 12, 1999, followed. This letter -- again suspected to be backdated -- gave provisional emission norms for certification. Key people in several government agencies confirmed to Down To Earth that these provisional norms were issued only in September. The ministry held a meeting with all stakeholders on September 2, 1999, as there were "certain points [in the iip emission test report] on which detailed clarifications are necessary both from the converting company [Rare Technologies] as also the test agency." K R Bhati, additional secretary to most , again opened the issue of provisional certification, already discussed with the epca in a meeting on August 24. Bhati is reported to have said in the meeting that there is no provision for a preliminary or provisional certification in the rules set by cmva and no such permission can be given. most had even advised the Delhi government to file an affidavit in sc for extension of the deadline.
iip had earlier agreed to conduct type approval tests on the converted buses. Now, it revealed that other tests, such as those for ensuring safety, had not been conducted and that the institute did not have the infrastructure to do so. It also pointed out some safety concerns. In a meeting held on September 8, 1999, epca gave most and the testing agencies one week to issue the regulations. The ministry refused to commit to any time limit. epca sensed a clear lack of commitment among the concerned agencies. most couldn't absolve itself of the responsibility of laying down rules for fitness certification, the authority's report stresses.
By September 1999 epca concluded that there were no procedures to give type approval to buses converted to cng . To speed up the process, epca proposed testing of only one model bus for certification of the conversion technology and kit. It suggested that testing agencies define a procedure by which dtc itself could test and certify the vehicles. The report asks most to define the procedure and work alongside the Delhi government to meet the deadline. All that Bhati of most has done is to argue consistently that cng is not viable.
The most committee that was drawing out rules and regulations for certifying cng buses held a meeting on September 22, 1999. The meeting was called by the Automotive Research Association of India (arai), a technical body responsible for testing vehicles according to rules issued by most . Balraj Bhanot, director of arai , had been chairing the most committee. The fact that it took five months for the committee to notify the norms says a lot about his willingness to implement the sc order (see chart: MOST: incompetence is the only norm).
Several delays and excuses later, most finally notified certification rules and regulations in February 2000. These merely specify that the bus should meet the emission norms of the year of its manufacture. In July 2000, most further elaborated on its February notification. It stated that agencies like the Indian Institute of Petroleum and arai could certify only 25 cng converted buses and that the companies involved in conversion of in-use vehicles to cng would have to bring back one vehicle after it has it has run 25,000 km for a type approval certificate. This would allow the companies to undertake unlimited cng conversions. The companies protested that this process would take more than eight months, meaning that there would be no way to meet the Supreme Court deadline. In December 2000, most agreed to do away with the condition for certification of converted vehicles only after completing 25,000 km. By this time, only three months remained to meet the deadline.
As if that wasn't enough, all the tests needed for certification are not available in any one laboratory. Companies like Rare Technologies find that tests for emissions and smoke are conducted at iip , Dehradun, while other tests like electro-magnetic interference and gradeability (testing the vehicle's ability to climb) can be conducted only at the Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (vrde), Ahmednagar or arai , Pune, both in Maharashtra.
Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas
If the Delhi Transport Corporation and the State Transport Authority do not increase the number of their buses, why should we increase capacity for supply? If I order equipment worth several crore rupees without there being adequate number of buses, how would I answer to my superiors?" Thus Rajiv Sharma, managing director of Indraprastha Gas Limited (igl). The agency, which comes under the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas (mpng), is a joint venture of the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Gas Authority of India Ltd. It was formed after the July 1998 order of the Supreme Court to set up 80 cng fuel stations in Delhi by March 31, 2000. By February 16, 2001, only 60 such stations have come up. The long queues along cng filling stations are blaring testaments to how igl and mpng have failed to deliver. To give the devil its due, igl has had to contend with agencies infamous for their incompetence, including the Delhi Development Authority (dda), municipal authorities and the Delhi Vidyut Board.
An agency created to make cng easily available, igl plans to hike the price of cng . "The price has been increased to over Rs 17 per kg in Mumbai, we still sell it at a little over Rs 11 per kg and incurring losses. Apart from spending huge amounts on setting up cng stations, transportation of natural gas is also very expensive. I have to show profits to my superiors [read mpng ]," whines Sharma. The ministry has no clue about how to use its fuel pricing policy. It plans to discourage a clean fuel like cng , all the while subsidising a dirty fuel like diesel. The real question, however, is: If public sector agencies prioritise financial viability over public interest, what can you expect of manufacturers of polluting vehicles? The answer to this should come from Ram Naik, minister in charge of mpng .
Availability of cng does not seem to be a problem. Sharma claims only 62 per cent of the existing filling capacity is being utilised. The dispensers do not fill the gas quickly. igl needs a contingency plan to instal additional boosters and compressors. The import duty of 67 per cent on cng dispensing equipment like compressors is phohibitive, says Sharma. The Union ministry of finance is to blame.
Delays in filling cng vehicles have also got to do with the way filling stations have been planned. There are three kinds of the stations. First, there are mother stations, connected directly with the main gas supply line. Second come online stations, which are connected to mother stations through pipelines. And then there are daughter stations, replenished through lorries ferrying cylinders from the mother stations. The villain of this piece is Delhi Traffic Police that fines lorries plying during daytime. Given the inflexible nature of police authorities, the answer is to have more online stations. For that, igl needs land, which places it precariously at the mercy of such bureaucratic bastions as dda .
For the long queues outside the filling stations, Sharma blames the archaic nozzles fitted to autorickshaws of Bajaj Auto Ltd that stretch the duration of filling gas and increase in temperature that creates back pressure in the filling pipe. He wants Bajaj to switch to the more recent ngv1 nozzle, which allows faster flow of gas and minimises the problem of back pressure. The ngv 1 nozzle is used all over the world to reduce filling problems and that both types of nozzles cost the same. But Bajaj cannot switch to ngv 1 nozzles due to legal complications. The Bajaj models have been certified with the archaic nozzles. Changing the nozzle would require the company to go through the process of verification all over again with the Union ministry of surface transport, which can beat all the queues outside all the cng filling stations put together when it comes to delays. The only abundant supply of gas comes in the form of lame excuses from igl and mpng . Sadly, these aren't compressed.
Ministry of Environment and Forests
In complete mockery of its very title, the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef) has shown no interest in pushing for implementation of the cng order despite all the power at its disposal. mef is only too happy with the national emission standards, which are nothing more than the minimum requirement. That more stringent measures are needed in critically polluted areas is completely lost on the ministry's bureaucrats who themselves have no clue about how to control pollution in any city of the country.
Existing vehicular emission standards can't rule out the possibility of further tightening in cities like Delhi. Which is why sc has ordered all buses, autorickshaws and taxis to move to cng . The court advanced introduction of Euro i emission norms for Delhi by almost one year in June 1999. Euro ii norms for cars were nowhere in the scene when the court made these mandatory from April 2000. The aim was obvious: push automakers and fuel suppliers to look towards more stringent emission norms with a certain amount of urgency.
mef has significant powers under section 5 of the Air Act, 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act to enforce more stringent standards for pollution hot spots. Apart from once in 1997, when it notified the first ever fuel quality norms, the ministry has never made its presence felt. It has never discouraged dieselisation of the Indian auto sector. There has been no show of commitment or iniative on the part of T R Baalu, the minister of environment and forest.
The most glaring testimony to this is the ministry's affidavit filed in sc that opposed the epca recommendation of banning private diesel cars in Delhi. mef stated that diesel cars can't be banned if they meet the currently notified emission norms. The ministry's 1997 white paper on pollution in Delhi is little more than a common position of the all other Union government agencies concerned, such as ministries of industries, surface transport, petroleum and natural gas. It does nothing more to push for cng than propose more cng filling stations -- in typical government tradition of making toothless but politically correct suggestions.
It has remained confused all along about the cng issue, giving contradictory statements. Delhi government officials have been easy conduits of misleading information from those pro-industry factions that are looking for excuses to not implement the sc order. It began by selectively citing biased documents from the us , supplied by pro-diesel automakers, arguing that even the us is finding it difficult to move to cng . This was followed by a splurge of press statements claiming that cng conversion won't work. The first came in June 2000 from Delhi's lieutenant governor, Vijai Kapoor. Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, spokesperson of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, was next. The transport minister, Parvez Hashmi, followed on July 17, 2000.
Kapoor went to town with a study by the Harvard Centre for Risk Analysis, funded by Navistar International, a leading us trucking company. Hashmi went a step further to cite a study of the bus fleet across the us by the General Accounting Office (gao) on the status of alternative fuel use, including cng . The transport minister selected the part which mentions that the country has "a very small portion [5 per cent] of the transit bus fleet of 50,000" running on alternative fuels like cng. In an effort that can be described as nothing but deliberate, he did not mention the part which pointed out that one out of every five new buses being ordered across the us will be powered by alternative fuels, mostly natural gas.
Quoting the gao report, Hashmi said the us experience with cng buses was poor. He conveniently ignored the part that says natural gas buses have a promising future and that they make up the majority of alternative fuel buses now in operation in the us . Even so, the us department of energy says the discussion material in the gao report "is loosely based on informal conversations and interviews that the gao had with a small industry group" and that "much of the report dwells on poor fleet experiences with early generation equipment from the late 1980s and early 1990s. It says the findings do not reflect current market conditions." The government argues that its industry bias has led gao to take the 'half empty glass' approach instead of a 'half full glass'. Hashmi's selective use of information smacks of some of the oldest disinformation tricks of the trade.
International experience shows that moving to any new fuel is always beset with hurdles, especially the opposition from entrenched business interests. But most governments take strong, proactive measures to counter such opposition by raising public awareness. When similar attacks were launched in the us , the department of energy brought out a notification in April 2000 entitled 'Natural Gas Buses: Separating Myth from Fact'. The idea was to counter what the department calls 'industry folklore'.
The Delhi government did not put in place financial incentives schemes, as mandated in the sc order, for autorickshaws and buses. The only incentive available to auto rickshaw and taxi operators is the one designed for phasing out 15-year-old commercial vehicles in Delhi. This isn't available to those who want to replace vehicles less than 15 years old with cng -powered ones.
Tata Energy Research Institute In service of polluters
It isn't just the ministries that are misinforming the public about cng and ensuring the non-implementation of the Supreme Court order on cng. The Tata Energy Research Institute (teri), a New Delhi-based energy consultancy, has also contributed to such efforts. The teri -industry nexus is strangulating adoption of cng . Despite overwhelming evidence on how cng is far cleaner than diesel, teri has gone to town advocating diesel as the top priority. The institute's newly updated policy paper on technology and policy options for urban bus fleets actually contests the merit of the Supreme Court order on cng . In its report, teri came out in favour of a "fuel neutral approach that preserves the clean diesel option rather than compressed natural gas that is hitting Delhi."
This position finds resonance in the position of the all those who have been fighting cng from the beginning -- Union ministry of surface transport, Delhi Transport Corporation and telco , the Tata group company that has the big stakes in diesel. Affidavits filed by telco and dtc in the Supreme Court echo the teri position to continue with diesel. dtc says it can't convert its bus fleet to cng by the March 31, 2001 deadline due to insufficient supply of conversion kits and chasses. The corporation insists on purchasing diesel buses that comply with Euro i emission norms to replace its eight-year-old buses, and new Euro ii -compliant diesel buses. dtc mentions the inclusion of "various other modes of running buses on clean fuels," including low emission fuel efficient diesel engines. telco 's affidavit, too, tries to belittle the problem of particulate pollution in Delhi, claiming that this hasn't reached dangerous levels. In August 1999, a newsletter sponsored by telco tried to discredit the anti-pollution campaign (see 'Diesel update', Down To Earth , August 31, 1999).
teri has cited studies of dubious nature to claim that cng vehicles emit more ultrafine particles than diesel ones. But this could not stand to reason in a recent discussion forum on the television channel Star News. teri 's Ranjan K Bose was rendered speechless when Anil Agarwal, chairperson of the Centre for Science and Environment, exposed the true nature of the study from the Harvard Centre for Risk Assessment. Agarwal pointed out that the study was conducted for one of the leading bus and truck engine manufacturers in the us . The report is a literature survey that selectively quotes another study.
Baptised as a Harvard study, this report has found way to the table of every policymaker in Delhi. The study has no original findings of its own but is a highly biased literature survey that quotes only studies against cng . Michael Walsh, a highly respected air pollution expert and former official of the us Environment Protection Agency (epa), says, "What I find especially troubling and distasteful is the way the authors give the report the aura of impartiality and scholarship by associating it with the Harvard name. Any undergraduate who turned such a report in to his professor would surely get a very poor grade."
teri chooses to ignore the mounting evidence on the cancer causing potential of diesel emissions that is many times more potent than cng emissions. A study by the Swedish consultancy group Ecotraffic found that after taking into account all the toxic components in emissions, the cancer potency level of diesel cars is double that of petrol cars in India. Even more frightening is the fact that if only particulate emissions are compared from different car models then the cancerous effect of diesel particulate matter from the new diesel car is equal to that of 24 new petrol cars and 81 cng cars on the road. The Swedish experts have identified traces of over 40 substances in diesel exhaust that are listed by the epa as hazardous air pollutants and by the California Air Resources Board as toxic air contaminants. Unfortunately, the pro-diesel lobby glibly vouches for diesel without considering how even clean diesel is not good enough to reduce the risk of cancer.
When confronted by similar myths being propagated by diesel industry in the us , the us department of energy issued public notification to dispel these myths. It categorically dismissed the argument that cng buses emit more particulate matter or more ultrafine particles than diesel buses: " cng buses consistently emit dramatically less particulate matter than diesel buses. The trace amount of particulate matter associa ted with cng is attributed to crankcase lubri cating oil consumption (which also occurs in diesel engines)" (see graph: Particle toxicity ). As regards the number of ultrafine particles, it says, " cng actually produces much fewer ultrafine particles than diesel fuel." On the point that cng buses cause more global warming, it says, " cng buses have very similar greenhouse gas emissions as diesel buses despite higher methane emissions because natural gas has inherently lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to diesel." However, an issue paper by the European Natural Gas Association points out that "a majority of references conclude that natural gas is most preferable from a global warming point of view (see box: Misleading media and public opinion).
teri argues in favour of what it claims are the most cost-effective options for cutting emissions, referring to diesel technologies. In this the institute actually finds support from Ashoke Joshi, secretary to the Union ministry of surface transport, who expressed similar sentiments in a letter dated February 22, 2000, to the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority. This was barely one month before the deadline to convert all eight-year-old buses to cng . The December 11, 2000 issue of Diesel Fuel News , a pro-diesel newsletter, quotes teri to say that cng technology is not viable for "a poor country like India." So, according to teri , while people are dying due to air pollution, they should wait for the dawn of a cheaper technology. teri not only ignores the health costs of diesel emissions, it also contradicts international experiences of the economic advantages of cng . In another paper dealing with vehicular pollution control strategies, teri champions the cause of promoting alternative fuels like cng . This confused approach shows through.
teri ignores a study by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy that says cng is the most cost-effective option, better than using particulate traps in current diesel buses or bringing advanced diesel buses that would need far cleaner diesel than is available today. The study estimates that the cost (per weighted tonne) of emission reduction with particulate trap 60 times higher than the cost of cng retrofitment.
Missing the bus
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.