Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

Not fair!

Apropos your cover story 'Nailed! for Slow Murder -- the deadly story of vehicular pollution in India' (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 12), the overview by its editor Anil Agarwal makes unjustified and unduly harsh remarks. It is unethical journalism to make such comments without bothering to even talk to us at length. Anju Sharma did visit us, but we strongly deny any subsequent written request from your magazine.

With reference to testing fuels, as a policy it is mandatory for the Indian Institute of Petroleum (iip) to know the purpose of any test or analysis conducted by it, especially since ours is the final word on these issues and this could always be misinterpreted and distorted as has happened in the past.

With specific reference to testing fuel quality for this cse report, iip would have been pleased to do the same, provided you got us certified samples from various refineries. Once we have a sample which carries a certificate from its producer acknowledging the sample as its product fit for retail and that it conforms to the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis), iip would have no qualms in testing the fuel. But without that, testing fuel samples merely picked up from retail outlets and quoting our results in support, your indictment of refineries does not make sense and would only damage our credibility, because the probability of finding the same quality of fuel at two retail outlets of the same refinery is very less.

Our commitment to transparency and integrity in our responsibility for the environment is unimpeachable, as our track record and past performance shows. We would appreciate it if you could give our views due coverage for the sake of balance.

Public Relations Officer
Indian Institute of Petroleum
Dehra Dun

The Editor replies
Your letter leaves me wondering whether iip really knows what scientific values are or how independent scientists, supported by precious taxpayers' money, should work in the public interest. Your commitment, quite clearly, lies in defending the interests of the state-owned petroleum industry, come hell or high water. Scientific objectivity, or the objective of providing clean fuel to Indian consumers, can be damned as far as you are concerned.

You say that it is imperative for iip to know the purpose of any test or analysis you conduct. Anju Sharma made it clear when she met several officials at iip during the two days she spent there while researching the story: we want to find out the quality of fuel sold at petrol pumps in India. The ultimate quality of fuel sold in petrol pumps -- that is our concern.

You say that you will only test fuel once it has a certificate from its producer acknowledging the sample as its own, and that it conforms to bis standards. What purpose would that serve? Are you afraid of testing fuel without the producers' knowledge, finding it does not conform to bis standards, and incurring their wrath? If you are not an independent scientific research agency under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, then what right do you have to survive on taxpayers' money?

We have mentioned in the article that fuel quality in India is poor because of what happens in the refineries and also because of adulteration that takes place after the fuel leaves the refinery. As far as we are concerned, both these practices contribute to vehicular pollution and are contributing to the slow murder of India's citizens. In fact, we had hoped that you would be able to analyse the fuel and pinpoint how poor the quality of the fuel is, and how much is caused by adul.

Air pollution campaign

The Centre for Science and Environment/Down To Earth campaign on vehicular pollution has tried to focus attention on the deteriorating quality of air and jolt the government into taking remedial action. Collecting comprehensive data on the quality of fuel available at various retail outlets was one of the main steps of this campaign.

Our request to the Indian Institute of Petroleum (iip), Dehra Dun, to test fuel samples and compare them to international standards was denied. If this is the response that a researcher from a reputed organisation receives, then what can the people hope for from the government?

iip protests that our criticism of them in 'Smog Inc.' (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 12) for refusing to comply with our request is unjustified. We reproduce below the letter from iip and our response.

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