August 16: It’s a nightmare either way. Too little, and we have thousands of autorickshaws and bus drivers in Delhi waiting for their turn to fill their fuel tanks with the new eco-friendly CNG or Compressed Natural Gas. Too much, and we have the gas pipe of a bus bursting when a careless attendant over-filled a tank at the Bhikaji Cama Place mother station.

On the other side, Petroleum Minister, Mr Ram Naik is now championing the cause of low-sulpher diesel, and more recently, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), which we use as cooking gas. He is grumbling that gas wells have dried up.

More fuel to the CNG fire
More fuel to the CNG fire []

Rubbish, says Centre for Science and Environment chairman, Mr Anil Aggarwal. “There is enough gas,” he says, citing figures from the Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL). “Delhi needs just 11.3 lakh kg CNG daily for the entire transport sector. The Hajira-Bijapur-Jagdishpur pipeline from Gujarat supplies 334 lakh kg every day.”

And then there’s the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), which is trying out its own vision for the future. On Monday, the DTC Board approved the introduction of electric trolley buses in Delhi, starting with a 15-km stretch between Udyog Vihar in Gurgaon and Dhaula Kuan in South Delhi. DTC is also planning to introduce mini-buses which will ply within a 6-7 km radius in congested areas of Delhi. They’re also going to integrate DTC’s services with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

The whole CNG-debate rests on a single point of logic – that if we shift the bulk of our public transport system on to this ‘cleaner fuel’, Delhi will have cleaner air. But it doesn’t, argues the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI). According to TERI, barring ITO, pollution levels have actually risen in Delhi. In a report in The Indian Express, TERI’s director general, Mr RK Pachauri said, “We believe that Ultra Low Sulpher Diesel is a far superior option compared to CNG.”

CNG, LPG or UIltra-Low Sulpher Diesel. Which is the way to go? While the Ministry, CSE and TERI slug it out, autorickshaw and bus drivers in Delhi continue to be at the receiving end of their whimsical decisions. A day-long strike on Friday may have made Delhi’s babus sit up a bit, but it’ll be a while before we see a workable solution on Delhi’s streets.

Here are some facts on Delhi’s encounter with CNG recently:

  • Delhi’s air is cleaner. Figures from the Central Pollution Control Board indicate a distinct decline in the level of Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter, the stuff that’s causing asthma and bronchitis and every second child in Delhi. TERI says ‘no’, pollution levels have actually gone up.
  • Autorickshaw drivers are selling off household goods and sending their families to their villages, because they’re spending eight hours a day waiting to get their tanks filled. The 3.5 kg CNG tank costs Rs 40/- and lasts a maximum of six hours. Then its back to a four-hour wait for a refill.
  • It’s not just shortage of CNG which is causing a problem. Most filling stations do not have booster compressors which ensure uniform gas pressure. Petroleum Minister Ram Naik has assured the Delhi government that 10 booster pumps will be made available by September 10.
  • 300 schools in Delhi are protesting against the use of CNG in school buses. After a moving bus caught fire because of a faulty cylinder, parents are worried of what would have happened if the bus had been a school bus.