Bad air: Taking cue from Delhi, public transport in NCR cities must shift to CNG
Experts have time and again demanded that neighbouring states and the NCR cities shift their buses, taxis and autos completely to CNG to curb pollution
New Delhi: The constant smell of soot and the irritation in his eyes and throat are the only memories that Dheeraj Sahu (aged 58) has from his initial years of travelling to office in Delhi. It was the time when Delhi only had diesel buses for public transport, most of which were old and highly polluting.
But things changed rapidly after the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in 1998 ordered a complete transition to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for all buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws in Delhi. “I used to travel for at least three hours every day to and from office in those blue-line buses. I remember in the summers after wiping my face, my white handkerchief would turn grey at the end of the day. Times have changed since then, now we have the metro and all buses and taxis in Delhi run on CNG. So, the direct impact of pollution while being on city roads has certainly reduced,” said Sahu.
More than two decades later, Delhi now has become the largest consumer of CNG in India among all states and Union Territories. Data from the ministry of new and renewable energy showed that in the past four-and-a-half years, Delhi consumed 4,434 thousand metric tonnes (TMT) of CNG which is 1.4 times more than Gujarat’s consumption of 3094, which is the second-largest market for CNG in terms of sales.
But, even after Delhi’s complete transition to CNG, the city continues to be one of the most polluted cities in the country. And the experience which Sahu had in those rickety diesel-run blue-line buses can still be seen in some pockets of the city. A case in point is the Anand Vihar area which is at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh (UP) border. It houses the Anand Vihar ISBT on the Delhi side and the Kaushambi ISBT on the UP side. Data shows that pollution in this part of the city always remains 1-2 notches above the average for the city. Senior officials from the environment ministry said it is mainly because UP primarily operates diesel buses for its inter-state transports toxic emissions from which contribute to the unfavourable ambient air quality in the area.
It is here that experts have time and again demanded that neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana or at least the National Capital Region (NCR) cities should also shift their buses, taxis and autos completely to CNG. “At a time when Delhi plans to go all-electric in terms of any new purchases made by the government on buses and auto-rickshaws, the neighbouring states or the NCR cities such as Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, Gurugram, clearly are lagging. While EVs [Electric Vehicles] are still an emerging market, CNG is sorted and can be easily lapped up by the respective state governments. So, the onus is on all stakeholders,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Roychowdhury recalled that the former anti-pollution watchdog, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) also pushed for CNG infrastructure and targeted the introduction of CNG vehicles in NCR like buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles. “Several issues related to setting up of CNG pipelines, stations, pricing of gas were addressed back then. There was also a problem that APM gas was not available in NCR. It had to be done by the private sector. But, all these can always be resolved and it ultimately comes down to the will or intent to do so,” she said.
Delhi transport commissioner Ashish Kundra said he raised the need for NCR states to expand their CNG network in the recent meetings of the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM). “Unfortunately, there were no binding obligations on the cities which surround Delhi for conversion to CNG. Every day, thousands of diesel buses and trucks enter the city, not just from NCR, but from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Senior officials from the UP state transport corporation (UPSRTC) said they are working on a proposal to purchase 130 new CNG buses and that 50-100 CNG buses are likely to be given to the interstate bus terminal (ISBT) in Kaushambi, Ghaziabad, which shares its border with Anand Vihar in Delhi. The area has already been identified as a pollution hot spot by government agencies and residents are pursuing court cases against agencies for their failure to tackle different local sources of pollution affecting their area. Of the 500-odd buses operating from the Kaushambi ISBT, only 125 UPSRTC buses are CNG-based currently, while the others are running on diesel.
On November 18, the Delhi government even wrote to the Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan governments asking them not to deploy diesel buses that are older than five years for inter-state transport to the national Capital. Delhi’s letter to the neighbouring states, a copy of which is with HT, stated that public transport in the national Capital runs 100% on CNG, while buses plying from other states continue to be largely based on diesel fuel. “NGT has already directed that diesel vehicles of more than 10 years of life will not be allowed to ply in NCR… I seek your support to strengthen our hands in dealing with the grave situation by minimising the deployment of diesel buses destined for Delhi. It would be appreciated if vehicles of more than five years vintage are not deployed on Delhi bound routes till such time the pollution abates,” read the letter written by Kundra.
Data accessed by the HT from the ministry of petroleum and natural gas shows that there are 3,179 CNG stations in the country, of which Delhi has around 436. UP has set a target of setting up 795 CNG stations, of which around 485 were operational as of March 31, 2021. Haryana has 186 stations against the target of at least 280, Punjab has 101 against 278, while Uttarakhand has 17 of the 50 stations planned in the state.
Kundra said since air pollution has no boundaries, a consolidated effort to harmonise these efforts within and outside the NCR will be crucial to reducing pollution.