New Delhi/Mumbai: India is preparing for a major thrust on the development and use of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in yet another effort to curb rising levels of vehicular pollution in its cities.

The government plans to use CNG and LNG as an alternative to both diesel and petrol until automakers develop efficient and affordable electric vehicles, as part of the move, according to the minutes of a meeting of a committee of secretaries in January, which was also attended by officials from the Prime Minister’s Office. The minutes were seen by Mint.

The commerce ministry’s department of industrial planning and promotion (DIPP) is working on ways to expedite security and other approvals needed from the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) to set up new CNG and LNG retail outlets. The government has begun talks with commercial vehicle makers, through GAIL (India) Ltd, the country’s largest gas distributor, to incentivize the development of such eco-friendly vehicles.

The oil ministry is meanwhile partnering other ministries to prepare a road map to open more LNG and CNG pumps on highways and intra-city corridors.

Rajiv Kumar Mathur, executive director, corporate affairs and risk management, GAIL (India), said talks are on with commercial vehicle makers to encourage them to build facilities for LNG-based trucks and buses.

“The idea is to demonstrate that LNG-based automobiles are cost-effective and beneficial for anyone who buys them. So, we are trying to incentivise the manufacturers by saying that, if you manufacture them, we would buy them from you to tell the world that there is something that is more efficient," he said.

Petronet LNG Ltd, India’s largest importer of liquid gas, too has plans to set up an LNG eco-structure—infrastructure where there are gas-filling stations, service stations, and storage.

By creating an infrastructure, companies want to excite people to convert to LNG.

Creating the eco-structure will need an investment of around 15,000 crore over the next decade. Petronet LNG, for instance, has identified 4,000km of highways (Delhi-Mumbai-Bengaluru-Chennai) where it would initially set up around 20 LNG re-filling outlets. Petronet last year roped in Gujarat to run 20 state buses and Kerala State Road Transport Corporation to run 10 of their buses on LNG.

Suvranil Majumdar, project lead, electric mobility, International Finance Corp., termed the move to encourage LNG and CNG vehicles as a short-term strategy and said in the long-term the government should focus on promoting electric buses in cities.

“This initiative to push more CNG and LNG vehicles is quite confusing for manufacturers as one should not expect them to invest in hybrid, electric and other alternative fuels at the same time. Now, the state governments have also firmed up policies to acquire electric vehicles within city limits. So, there shouldn’t be a shift in the long-term aim to move to zero emission vehicles," he said.

Companies such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Hyundai Motor India Ltd are focusing on CNG vehicles and have been lobbying with the government to promote such vehicles.

Mint had on 6 February reported Maruti Suzuki has asked dealers to bid for licences to open their own CNG dispensing stations to keep pace with the company’s plan of selling about 200,000 CNG cars annually by 2022 by introducing more models that run on the fuel. The government has announced plans to set up 10,000 CNG distribution stations by 2030 to slash the usage of diesel and petrol.

malyaban.g@livemint.com

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