Full speed ahead to introduce CNG in Delhi

Vol 4, PW 8 (24 May 00) People & Policy

There's a new fashion sweeping the Indian energy sector.

It is called Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), and by this time next year it will have firmly established itself as the primary source of fuel for up to 10,000 public transport buses in Delhi. For this we have India's Supreme Court to thank.

In an order dated July 1998 the Supreme Court - prompted by public concern at the alarming rise of pollution levels in Delhi - directed the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to scrap 1,842 diesel-fuelled buses by a deadline of 31st March this year. The reason: they are over ten years old and a health hazard.

The order further directed Delhi to convert its entire fleet of 10,000 buses to CNG by a deadline of March 2001. It is hardly surprising to see authorities move at breakneck speed to comply with the order.

In India you ignore a Supreme Court directive at your peril. On 11th May Delhi authorities issued global tenders for the supply of CNG conversion kits for its existing buses.

Officials promise to buy a minimum of 500 kits per qualifying company when bids are selected after the submission deadline on June 15th. Also in June, Delhi should begin receiving made-to-order CNG buses manufactured by Ashok Leyland at its dedicated assembly line at Alwar in Rajasthan.

One thousand have been ordered. Today Delhi has only 25 CNG buses in operation.

Even car manufacturers are getting excited. In April Daewoo launched a CNG version of its Cielo model, while Mahindra & Mahindra launched a CNG version of its Commander.

Fiat, Hyundai and others are expected to follow suit. Amid the euphoria about CNG in India, one key question has been carefully sidestepped: is it the best option