Mumbai: The air in India’s commercial capital will soon become cleaner, with the city’s public transport service deciding to run its entire fleet of 3,391 buses on compressed natural gas (CNG). The Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST) currently uses diesel to run its buses, which carry around 4.5 million passengers every day. Mumbai’s suburban railway network carries 6.5 million passenger trips.
New Delhi has a public transport system that has been running on CNG following an order by the Supreme Court in April 2002. BEST, however, has decided to move to CNG on its own accord. Mumbai already has the biggest fleet of vehicles running on the fuel in India: two lakh of a 3.5-lakh total.
Mahanagar Gas Ltd (MGL), a joint venture of British Gas Plc. and GAIL Ltd, already supplies 10 million cubic metres of gas per day to Mumbai. And the Union minister in charge of petroleum and natural gas, Murli Deora has told BEST that the JV will be able to supply the additional gas needed. And, as a sort of bonus for the transport company’s effort to move to an environment- friendly fuel, he has promised to speak to Maharashtra’s chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, to waive the 3% passenger tax BEST pays on tickets sold. According to P.K. Gupta, managing director of MGL, the company is in talks with BEST to obtain land where CNG stations can be set up. These stations will service BEST’s fleet as well as other vehicles.
Uttam Khobragade, a general manager with BEST, estimates that it will cost the undertaking Rs500 crore to retrofit all its buses with CNG kits. BEST is owned by the city’s municipal corporation and plans to raise the money required through debt. “We have asked the state government to grant the undertaking a 10-year tax holiday so that we can raise the money to fund the process,” said Khobragade.
CNG buses can be run at almost half the cost of diesel buses, added Khobragade, and BEST could service its loans using this money as well as the tax it will save if an exemption is granted to it. Meanwhile, BEST, which currently has 370 CNG buses, has placed an order for 300 more as part of its fleet expansion. BEST has initiated talks with the Hindujasowned Ashok Leyland Ltd, the company that built most of its buses earlier, to get its fleet fitted with CNG kits.
Mumbai’s air-pollution problem arises partly from vehicular traffic. The World Bank estimates that between 2000 and 2002, the annual average PM10 (fine particles that pose the greatest health concern because they can get into lungs) was approximately 80 microgram/cubic metre. India’s Central Pollution Control Board has specified 60 micrograms/cubic metre as the maximum permissible air-pollution limit.