Non-profit says step will help public transport and clean up air
After hiking the cost of CNG in quick succession over the past two years, the Centre on Monday decided to slash its price by Rs 15 in Delhi.
Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment welcomed the decision of the petroleum and natural gas minister, Veerappa Moily. The reduction in price by Rs 15 amounts to a cut of almost 30 per cent in Delhi; a similar price reduction of about 25-30 per cent will be effected in other states. The Central government will now give CNG at uniform price to all states with a distribution network.
The series of price hikes over the past couple of years had narrowed the gap between CNG and polluting diesel, taking away the environmental advantage of switching from diesel to CNG. The last hike effected in December last year took the CNG price up to over Rs 50 a kg. This hurt public transport—buses and autorickshaws—that use CNG.
Delhi's tryst with CNG
The CNG programme was introduced under the direction of the Supreme Court to clean up the polluted air in Delhi and cut toxic carcinogenic emissions from diesel vehicles in the national capital and other cities. The order of July 28, 1998, directed that all buses, autorickshaws and a part of the city taxi fleet should move to CNG fuel. While issuing the direction, the Supreme Court had also asked Delhi government to augment the city bus fleet and take it up to 10,000. This makes CNG a crucial air pollution control measure that hinges on public transport augmentation plan based on clean fuel.
Responding to public health concerns and invoking the principle of “Right to Life” in the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court had also issued directions on April 5, 2002 to the national government to give priority to transportation sector while allocating natural gas to cities. Also, in an order of May 9, 2002, the Supreme Court had pointed to the importance of encouraging CNG with fiscal measures; subsequently, it took on board the recommendation of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that a favourable fuel taxation policy be adopted to maintain an effective price differentiation between CNG and diesel.
Why CNG should be kept affordable
Thus, keeping the CNG prices affordable is important to keep bus operational costs low and bus usage affordable for the masses in cities. Bus corporations in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities that have made massive investments to phase in CNG bus programme as a pollution control measure, are reeling under the rising CNG prices. CNG costs had already increased three-fold since 2002 in Delhi. This creates pressure for bus fare revision which can hurt large number of commuters. Increase in bus fares will lead to steady erosion of ridership and a shift to two-wheelers, the operational cost of which is as low as Re 1 to Rs 2 per km.
Distorted fuel pricing policy must not undermine the CNG programme in the interest of public health protection. According to the World Health Organization and International Agency for Cancer Research, diesel emissions are a class I carcinogen for their strong proven link with lung cancer. The cancer-causing potential of diesel particulates and emissions is several times higher than some of the worst known air toxins.
CSE demands that this policy to keep CNG prices affordable and effectively lower than diesel must be sustained to promote public transport on clean fuel and cut public health risks.
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