Little chance of Kolkata getting CNG soon; land acquisition hiccups halt supply

The land acquisition process for the pipeline in West Bengal is slow, says GAIL, the Union government’s nodal agency for supplying CNG

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Monday 03 August 2020

The chances of compressed natural gas (CNG) — an environment-friendly automotive fuel — reaching Kolkata seem distant. Work on the pipeline to carry the gas from Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur to Kolkata has been stalled indefinitely at one stretch.

The land acquisition process for completing work at one stretch of the 858-kilometre-long pipeline from West Bengal’s Durgapur to Kolkata was in limbo, said the Gas Authority of India (GAIL) Ltd, the Union government’s nodal agency for CNG.

Kolkata is one of the few major cities in India where CNG is yet to reach. The fuel is considered critical to solving Kolkata’s air pollution problem because it minimises vehicular pollution.

The land acquisition process for the pipeline in West Bengal has been slow, GAIL told the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in a July 13 affidavit filed by environmentalist Subhas Datta in context with an air pollution-related petition.

It requested the tribunal to issue “necessary directions…upon the government of West Bengal” to expedite the land acquisition process and provide the Right of Usage (RoU) for laying the pipeline.

Acquisition of land is a primary prerequisite to build a dedicated corridor within which the pipeline will be laid. The tribunal is expected to hear the case by the end of August.

Failure to acquire land

“Respondent number 3 (GAIL) has regularly taken up the matter of intervening and expediting RoU acquisition with West Bengal’s higher authorities since 2018,” the affidavit said.

The pipeline is designed to pass through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and reach West Bengal, with its final destination in Kolkata.

Laying for the pipeline was either completed or awarded up to Durgapur in West Bengal, but remained struck after Durgapur because of a failure in land acquisition, particularly within greater Kolkata.

Around 582 km of the pipeline was welded and laid underground, with work on going for 110 km, according to the affidavit.

Work on a 166-km-long section of the pipeline from Durgapur to Hansagara (Hooghly) and Kolkata can, however, only be started after acquisition of the RoU, it said.

GAIL said the state administration failed to acquire land in the North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Hoogly districts that are all part of greater Kolkata. This was the primary reason for the delay, according to GAIL.

The nodal agency also said both Kolkata Port Trust and the Bandel Thermal Power Station sat for more than six months to provide clearances for the pipeline that will pass through their land.

Stalled for 15 years

Former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya — in a 2005 address during the World Environment Day — claimed that preliminary talks with GAIL were positive.

With Mamata Banerjee having replaced Bhattacharya as the chief minister for nine years, CNG is yet to reach Kolkata. It also seems unlikely to come any time soon because of the hurdles faced in land acquisition.

Datta — who filed a number of petitions in the Calcutta High Court and NGT over vehicular pollution in Kolkata since the 1990s — cited an absence of political will for this situation to not change anytime soon.

“It’s hanging for about 15 years in the absence of any political will from either the past Left Front government or the current Trinamool Congress government to address city’s air pollution and introduce CNG,” Datta said.

The state government pledged to bring CNG in 2007 in the high court and signed a memorandum of understanding with oil companies in 2011, according to Datta.

“I moved the NGT in 2015 demanding CNG in Kolkata when nothing happened on ground,” he said.

Nothing concrete took shape despite the NGT pushing for CNG’s introduction in the city and the formation of a joint venture company involving GAIL and a state government agency, Datta pointed out.

“It’s not an easy process. We are trying from our end. Several departments are involved,” said a senior state transport department official, blaming the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic for a slowdown in the acquisition process.

The Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas gave the go-ahead to the Rs 12,940 crore pipeline in 2016, based on an approval given by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, according to GAIL’s submission in the affidavit.

The ministry advised for the completion of the project by 2020, GAIL pointed out.

A work order was placed in April 2019 to complete the stretch from Durgapur to Kolkata, while the stretch from Phulpur to Durgapur was “expected to be completed by November 2020”, according to a GAIL submission.

The project is slated to supply CNG to seven cities in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, including Kolkata.

CNG critical for Kolkata

Environmentalists said it is critical to use CNG as a transport fuel to reduce air pollution in Kolkata. Polluting diesel-driven commercial vehicles have become detrimental for the city.

“Kolkata immediately needs CNG so that it may be used to replace diesel vehicles plying in the city, triggering maximum pollution,” said Anumita Roy Choudhury of Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

Almost 95 per cent of commercial vehicles in city roads run on diesel, according to SM Ghosh, an emissions expert.

“Many of them, being old and poorly maintained, belch a significant amount of pollutants including particulate and nitrogen oxides,” Ghosh said. “This can only be stopped if CNG replaces diesel as the major transport fuel in Kolkata, similar to other major cities,” Ghosh added.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

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.