In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that all buses and commercial vehicles plying in Delhi NCR would have to shift from diesel to CNG, throwing most of the transport network in the city into disarray. The deadline, set as March 31, 2001 was not enough time according to the Delhi Government for it to be implemented. With continuing strikes by the transport unions, the debate was on whether a secondary fuel can also be used along with CNG.
Almost 16 years later, the commercial vehicles in the city are yet to shift over to the alternate fuel. This comes after air pollution in Delhi touched record peaks last year, sending alarm bells ringing and introduction of the Odd-Even formula and a review of the vehicles plying to and within the city. Registration of diesel vehicles above 2000 cc was suspended, diesel cars older than 15 years banned and commercial vehicles ordered (again) to shift to CNG.
With roughly 300 CNG fuelling stations in Delhi/NCR, there are many infrastructural impediments to the order. Long queues aside; the more pressing problem is that there is no cost effective way for the taxi operators to go. Operators, who, in many cases are drivers who have worked long to own their cabs are now facing the choice of selling their vehicles (at low value due to the sheer number of such cars suddenly on the market) or converting the engine to allow for CNG kits, a process which mechanics put the cost at Rs. 2.5 lakhs.
Aside from the unviable option of conversion and nearly junkyard resale value of the cars, there are families who have lost their only source of livelihood. Records indicate that registration for diesel cabs has jumped up in the last few years, with factors like the introduction of taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber allowing more people to drive cabs as a livelihood.
On the other hand, with the order to convert to CNG being granted extensions for the last nearly 20 years, it seems the patience of the Supreme Court has run out. While the present Delhi government appealing to the court for a phased manner to convert cars so as to not affect the drivers, it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court is ready to grant more time.
This goes to highlight the lack of implementation from the on ground agencies in implementing the directive of the courts. In nearly 2 decades worth of deadlines and extensions, buses and autorickshaws have successfully been shifted to CNG but in terms of cars, various estimates put the number somewhere between 30,000 to 45,000 vehicles which are still not compliant, with approximately 11,000 added in the last 2 years. App based cab aggregators have been under fire for various issues, like surge pricing and security; but this new compliance regulation may very well prove to be a curse for the industry.
The directive also has effects for other industries as well, with NASSCOM putting the loss for the BPO industry at roughly $1 billion due to the diesel cab ban. With nearly 65% of the employees living in Delhi and availing pick and drop facility to their offices in Gurgaon and Noida, it will have an effect on the jobs of these people for whom public transport is not a viable option. Given the timings these offices work in, other aspects such as safety and security, especially at night for female employees may also take a hit.
This move is part of a multi-pronged approach to tackle the alarming rise of air pollution levels in the city, which had recently been ranked as the most polluted city in the world. While many residents welcome the move, implementation will be the key step for which many people are waiting with crossed fingers for some sort of extension and plan put into place to help the conversion to CNG without completely breaking the cab-taxi industry of NCR.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar