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Please re-think, Mr CM

Private CNG cars being refused exemption during the odd-even scheme will discourage motorists from opting for the cleaner fuel, according to experts

As the odd-even rationing scheme is set to be rolled out during November 4-15, the Delhi government has decided to not exempt over five lakh CNG-run vehicles in the Capital city — while exempting two-wheelers, which contribute to 70% of vehicular population in Delhi.

Some may find it surprising to learn that a CNG-run four-wheeler is less polluting than a standard motorcycle having an engine capacity (cc) of 100-350.

A motorcycle having an engine capacity of 100-350 reportedly emits upto 69.5 CO2 emissions (g/km), whereas a CNG-run vehicle having an 800cc engine produces carbon emissions upto 82. Note the fact that a motorcycle with far less capacity engine-wise is more polluting.

Instead of rewarding CNG users, the decision could become a deterrent at a time when rapid expansion of the existing CNG network is taking place in the Capital city. In a recent announcement, Delhi-based Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL) said it will add 100 more CNG stations, taking its tally to 600.

IGL is reportedly spending Rs 600 crore on adding 100 more stations to its existing network in Delhi NCR. The rollout is expected to cover 50% of the geographical area in the next five years.

When it exempted private CNG-run vehicles in the first two editions of the odd-even rationing scheme, the Delhi government found that CNG stickers were used on vehicles which were fueled by petrol and diesel. The decision not to exempt them this year has raised serious concerns that motorists will be de-incentivised to opt for the clean fuel. This, the Indian Road Federation (IRF) “strongly believes is not a correct decision.”

Announcing the rollout of the odd-even scheme, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a press conference said that the CNG stickers issued earlier had been misused by the public, while also stating that many motorists bought these stickers from the black market.

In an email response to Patriot, the President (Emeritus) of the Indian Road Federation KK Kapila said, “However, these vehicles should be permitted to ply and not be a subject of odd-even.  If the concern is that the stickers of CNG are misused, the Authorities should do random checks and those found guilty should be penalised heavily to act as a deterrent for those who misuse the stickers.”

The IRF had earlier urged the Delhi government to exempt private CNG cars from the upcoming odd-even rationing scheme on the grounds that it will encourage new buyers to opt for CNG run cars.

A transport department official Patriot spoke to said “we have seen reports of misuse of the sticker which distinguishes a CNG-run vehicle from a petrol/diesel vehicle. Traffic personnel earlier found it difficult to figure out the cars during last year’s odd-even drive.”

It’s an everyday reality that almost all the CNG stations in the Capital see a rush of CNG cars resulting in long queues, such a sight is unlikely at petrol pumps. Cab drivers complain about it on a regular basis, for their riders are often stuck, waiting for the refilling process.

“Sometimes the wait is so long that I can finish my lunch and watch a few videos on YouTube till the time my turn comes,” said Sanchit Gulati, a CNG car owner.

Rajesh Pal, an Uber driver said, “The wait has always been long. You have to plan your day according to the rush at the CNG station. In some cases when there’s news of a price hike, then some CNG stations get closed without any notice. Because they want to sell CNG on the revised prices. That leaves us with no other option but to run our car on petrol for a few hours.”

Gulati has been driving a CNG run car for three years now. His decision was not entirely due to concern about pollution but more about the lower running cost of the car.

Earlier this month, CNG prices were reduced by Rs 1.90 per kg in Delhi and by Rs 2.15 per kg in other neighbouring cities like Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad.

Today, the CNG price stands at Rs 45.20 per kg in Delhi and Rs 51.35 per kg in other neighbouring cities. Petrol costs Rs 73.22 and diesel Rs 66.11.

Responding to whether the decision will become a barrier to curb the fragile condition of Delhi’s air, Kapila wrote back, “This decision will become a barrier because the consumers will be discouraged to buy CNG cars instead of diesel or petrol cars which in long term will be harmful for the pollution levels in the Capital.”

Asked on the Delhi government’s seriousness to push for CNG, he said, “Every effort is now being made to resolve this issue. In fact, the government should work on increasing the supply of CNG and promote CNG vehicles.”

Demand for CNG has also expanded by 50% in four years due to a push by the Modi government for popularising the less-polluting fuel, expansion of filling stations, lower gas prices and multiple launches by automakers in the country.

It is reported that CNG sales rose to 30.76 lakh metric tonne in 2018-19 from 20.37 lakh mt in 2014-15. Consumption of petrol and diesel, which have a much larger market, rose 48% and 20%, respectively, in the same period.

More and more car owners are now opting to buy company-fitted CNG cars as compared to the earlier trend of getting them installed once the car has been driven for some years. Almost all major automakers currently have CNG variants of their popular cars.

From Maruti to Ford to Honda, a buyer has the option available at his/her disposal to choose a CNG variant of trending hatchback or sedan.

Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) in a recent paper on ‘Alternative Fuels for Vehicles’ said if CNG infrastructure is further doubled from the 2020 level of 3,000 stations (pan-India), then it will take the total tally of CNG-run vehicles to 5.2 million.

For a much larger picture, SIAM said if CNG penetration is pushed to 10,000 stations across the country, then it may increase the total population of CNG four-wheelers to around 13 million.

In another move related to the odd-even rollout, the Delhi government announced that 2,000 additional CNG-operated buses will be brought in to boost the existing public network in the Capital city.