A move by the Government of India to address distorted Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) pricing will keep bus operational costs low and bus usage affordable for the masses in cities, according to India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). A cut of almost 30 per cent in Delhi and a similar price reduction of about 25-30 per cent in other states is planned. The impact goes beyond pure cost however, with maintained and expanding CNG-powered fleets having a significant impact on reducing city pollution.
CSE, a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi, has welcomed the decision of the oil and environment minister Veerappa Moily to reduce the price of CNG by Rs 15 (USD 0.24) per kg in Delhi. The Central government will now give CNG at uniform prices to all states with a distribution network.
Furthermore, CSE has demanded of the Government that this policy to keep CNG prices affordable and effectively lower than diesel must be sustained to promote public transport on clean fuel and cut public health risks.
This comes in the wake of price hikes in quick succession over the last couple of years that had narrowed the gap between CNG and diesel prices, thereby reducing incentive to operate cleaner natural gas vehicles (NGVs).
History of India’s CNG Program
The CNG programme was introduced under the direction of the Supreme Court to clean up the polluted air and cut toxic carcinogenic emissions from diesel vehicles in Delhi and other cities. The July 28, 1998 directive from the Court had asked all buses, autos and part of taxis to move to CNG. While asking buses to move to CNG, the Supreme Court had also directed the government to augment the bus numbers to 10,000. Thus, this is a crucial air pollution control measure that hinges on public transport augmentation plan based on clean fuel.
Responding to public health concerns and evoking the principle of ‘Right to Life’ in the Indian constitution, the Court had also directed in its order of April 5, 2002 that the national government give priority to transportation sector while allocating natural gas to cities. Also, in an order of May 9, 2002 the Supreme Court had pointed to the importance of encouraging CNG with fiscal measures; subsequently, it took on board the recommendation of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) that a favorable fuel taxation policy be adopted to maintain an effective price differentiation between CNG and diesel.
Thus, keeping the CNG prices affordable has a significant impact for public transportation fleet operators. Bus corporations in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities that have made massive investments to phase in CNG bus programme as a pollution control measure, have been reeling under the rising CNG prices which have increased threefold since 2002 in Delhi. This creates pressure for bus fare revision which can hurt large number of commuters.
Distorted fuel pricing policy must not undermine the CNG programme in the interest of public health protection. In June 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO),
classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) , based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer. The cancer-causing potential of diesel particulates and emissions is several times higher than some of the worst known air toxics.
A recent CSE assessment of the available air quality data for Delhi and Beijing and the review of air pollution control measures in the two capital cities shows that Delhi is losing the air pollution control race very fast – it is already more polluted than the Chinese capital.