The CNG route

Mumbai gears up to open its gateway to the clean fuel

By Lopamudra Banerjee
Published: Thursday 31 May 2001

Queing up: there are more than the Delhi cng drama is about to be re-enacted in Mumbai. But there is a difference. Like the Supreme Court in Delhi, the Mumbai high court has taken the initiative to clean up the air of India's commercial capital. However, the Mumbai government is proactive towards moving to cng , unlike the Delhi government, which is trying its best to undermine the apex court's initiative. Augmentation of the cng fleet, financial incentives for phasing in cng taxis and phasing out older vehicles seems to be the mantra for justice B P Singh of the Mumbai high court, which has held a series of hearings since April 30, 2001.

"We have argued for bringing in cng as soon as possible. While following Delhi's bid to ban old commercial vehicles, the V M Lal committee, set up by the court, has gone one step ahead: it has recommended the phasing out of older private vehicles as well," says Shiraz Rustomjee, of Bombay Environmental Action Group ( beag ), a non-governmental organisation. The organisation is fighting the case on behalf of the Smoke Affected Residents Forum ( sarf ), which had initially filed a public interest litigation. The court is expected to pass a series of directions in the second week of May, 2001. These directions will be based on the recommendations of the Lal committee and an affidavit filed by Pramod Krishnarao Sagdeo, deputy secretary, government of Maharashtra. Though the government affidavit asked for extensions for meeting the deadlines, it seems to have accepted in principle that the cng route will be beneficial as far as improving the air quality is concerned. "The government and the civil society are working together to achieve this goal," says Sandip Rane of sarf.

"The court has not heard this case for some time now and most of the deadlines have been missed. Therefore, it is heartening that the government has taken the initiative to come up with its own set of deadlines. We only hope that they meet them," says Zinnia Khajotia, member of the Lal committee.
Proactive on CNG In its May 2000 order, the court directed the government to convert diesel taxis to either petrol or cng . At that time, more than half the fleet of the 55,000 taxis in Mumbai were running on diesel. But within less than a year, the situation has changed. By April 18, 2001, more than 21,000 taxis were running on cng . The government, on its part, has been proactive in promoting cng . For example in March, reports of two cng cylinders bursting in Mumbai sent the city into a tizzy. Though it was later found that one was a illegally fitted domestic liquefied petroleum gas ( lpg ) cylinder and the other was a spurious cng cylinder, the officials did not issue statements against cng -- a lesson for the government of Delhi, which has tried every excuse to kill the cng initiative.

Moreover, the cng committee got into action the day the first blast took place. It drew up a plan to check the use of spurious cylinders. The cng committee has been constituted by the high court to monitor the progress of moving towards this clean fuel. The committee is chaired by the transport commissioner and includes the additional municipal commissioner of the municipal corporation of greater Mumbai, managing director of the Mahanagar Gas Limited ( mgl ), collector of the Mumbai Subarban district, additional commissioner of police, general manager of Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply and Transport ( best ) and deputy secretary of urban development department.

The committee has fixed the responsibility of checking whether a cng fitted vehicle is using certified kits and cylinders of mgl . A drive to issue stickers after checking for the right cylinders and cng kits was launched the day following the blast. The cylinders had to be manufactured by certified companies such as Everest Canto and Bharat Pumps and Compressors. Initially this drive was launched at a few cng stations, but has now expanded to all 22 stations in the city.

The deputy transport commissioner, Satish Saharabudhe, acting on behalf of the commissioner set a deadline of March 31, 2001, by which all cng vehicles were to get the stickers after which they would be denied cng at the dispensation stations. But a strange problem cropped up: the stickers got washed away due to rains or when the vehicles were cleaned. The committee then said that these should be replaced by metal tags, which should be riveted on to the kit inside the bonnet. The deadline for this is September 30, 2001.

A spurious ride
According to Khajotia, scrap metal is available at Rs 4 per kg in Mumbai. "Locally made cylinders cost between Rs 1,000-3,000, while an original costs more than Rs 10,000. To cut costs, taxi drivers go for the cheaper option," says Khojotia. According to Iqbal, a taxi driver, "Some drivers even use water supply pipes, which are welded at both ends, as cylinders." Another problem is that the waiting time at cng stations has gone up considerably. Now there are two queues -- one for filling cng and another for getting the vehicle checked. The taxi union has expressed its resentment about the delays. But the government is unrelenting. "A taxi fills gas only once a day. So even if he has to cue up for a couple of hours, it is worth it as this will eventually saves lives," says Sahasrabudhe. Like in Mumbai, there are long queues outside stations in Delhi too. But the reasons are different. While the time taken to fill gas in Delhi is longer, in Mumbai the problem seems to be lack of adequate number of cng stations.

In Mumbai, the mgl has been given the responsibility of not only dispensing gas, but also ensuring that vehicles convert to cng. ngo s are of the opinion that mgl is not doing enough to set up more cng stations. Ravi Shinde, who is heading the city's petroleum dealers association, says, " mgl is not concerned about setting up more cng stations." In fact, the cng committee has in its report clearly stated: " mgl has not been able to achieve any progress in setting up 20 additional outlets particularly in south Mumbai. They are also nowhere close to converting 80,000 vehicles to cng as sufficient outlets are not available. Instead of appreciating the difficulty of the vehicle owners, mgl is making an issue of commercial viability of their outlets without realising that supply has first to be made available before demand can be expected to grow. Even the high court has expressed serious criticism of this approach.

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.