A burning problem

The recent CNG bus accidents in Delhi have not prompted the government to set up safety mechanisms

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- not only has the government failed to meet the Supreme Court deadline of converting all public transport buses in Delhi to compressed natural gas (cng), it has not even formulated proper safety standards or maintenance facilities for buses plying on the roads.

There have been two major cng bus accidents in the past few months. The first one was in Punjabi Bagh on August 5, 2001. This was a brand new Telco bus and had hit the road for merely two weeks. The second accident occurred on October 1, 2001, at Karkardooma and this one too was a Telco bus, which had been plying for three months. Indraprastha Gas Limited (igl) officials inspected the bus and have confirmed that there was a leakage in some parts, which got exposed to some open fire -- cigarette light or a burning matchstick. Telco has not been able to deduce the reason for the fire. Surprisingly, even after several people were injured in the first accident, the authorities concerned have failed to come up with an action plan to check these buses for safety.

After the August accident, a committee was set up under P C Jain, secretary, transport department of Delhi, but this report has not been made public. Reliable sources in the state transport authority have confirmed that the committee comprised representatives of Telco, igl , Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) and Automotive Research Association of India (arai). Their report has ruled out gas leakage being the cause, although they have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause. Insiders also believe that igl officials have pointed a finger at the piping system used by Telco. But Telco has denied this. In fact, Telco completely absolves itself from all responsibility blaming it on faulty construction of the bus body. For example, Telco says that parts like the battery cut-off switch should be installed, which was not there in the bus that got burnt at Karkardooma.

This report says that since several private bus operators invest a lot of money in buying the cng bus chassis', they try to cut costs by using roadside mechanics and the most rudimentary technique of body building. This could lead to some alteration in the high pressure piping system. Incidentally, there are no standards for body building in buses, especially special ones for cng buses.

Delhi bus drivers are used to driving diesel buses and apply the same technique to cng buses, which cause some damage to the system. The continuous application and pumping of the clutch could cause damage to the high-pressure system. The drivers may also be tampering with the high-pressure pipes, electrical wirings when some minor faults occur in the buses, which could lead to these accidents. For this state transport authority has suggested that people working in workshops and involved in maintenance of these cng buses should be given special training. The Bhure Lal committee also suggested this.

Sindhushree Khullar, transport commissioner, Delhi, says that fitness officers do not know what all to look for when they check for fitness of a cng bus, which the ministry of road transport and highways (mrth) has yet to notify by reformulating the Central Motor Vehicles Rules.

The transport department has not mentioned these problems in the latest affidavit of the Delhi government, which was filed in August 2001. The only thing that is mentioned is that "further safety standards for new cng vehicles as well as commercial and retrofitted cng engine/kits have not yet been mandated. The number of accidents involving cng driven vehicles are a pointer to this vital issue. The Bhure Lal committee, in its second report on 'standards for cng vehicles and refilling stations', has pointed out that "there is a large scope for improvement in the safety standards on various aspects relating to cng vehicles and refilling stations."

Bus operators are of the opinion that some of these buses have faults when they delivered. According to Shyam Lal Gola of Delhi Bus Ekta Manch, the battery system of the bus gives out sparks under load and cylinders are not fixed in a proper way and experience a lot of vibration while the bus is in motion. Gola claims that the Delhi Ekta Manch had written to Telco about this problem several times, but nothing happened. He also complains that there are no trained mechanics in the five Telco authorised workshops in Delhi. "Telco has not trained the mechanics in their authorised workshops to deal with cng buses," he says.

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