It is the duty of the concerned authorities to implement the orders of mandatory conversion of public petrol and diesel-run vehicles into CNG for ensuring better and cleaner environment.

KHALIL AHMED, Senior Correspondent
Oct 16 - 22, 2006

Pakistan has one-fifth of the total natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in the world and the promotion of the CNG-run transport is at full throttle these days. This promotion is of course for twofold reasons: cleaner environment and fuel economy. The authorities seem to be extending every viable help to get the petrol and diesel-run vehicles converted into CNG ones in order to reduce the impact of traffic pollution on human health and to achieve economic transport system.

If we just look at the progress made in the last month, we would gather how serious the concerned authorities are regarding pollution free environment. It was announced in Quetta last month that the old buses would be replaced with 1,000 new CNG buses to control pollution in the city. This is a commendable endeavour made by the concerned authorities and this needs to be implemented with immediate effect for the benefit of the people of the biggest city of the province.

The Punjab government has come up with an excellent idea of offering 20 per cent subsidy on the purchase of new CNG buses and would provide resources worth Rs500 million for the CNG rickshaw scheme. Undoubtedly, these steps would give a big boost to the strength of the CNG-run transport in the biggest province of our country.

Recently, the Karachi City Government sought approval for 5,000 CNG buses. It is said that having got the approval from the federal government, the city government would be introducing the said number of clean fuel buses over the period of half a decade in the economic hub of the country. Though the number of buses is not sufficient for 16 million residents of Karachi, yet the move made by the city government is in the right direction which would eventually bring about positive environmental and economic impact.

Sources quote that there are over 18,000 public transport buses in the biggest city of the country and around 95% Karachiites travel by the public transport. One of the points noted here is the bus tariff. On average a working Karachiite must be paying Rs30 per day for commuting to and from the work place. How much difference in fare would the citizens be able to see in terms of travel by the CNG buses? In case the concerned authorities have already decided to charge less amount of fare from the CNG fleet commuters, it is a praise-worthy step. After the launch of the CNG buses in Karachi, the commuters should be charged half of the fare charged by either the so-called comfortable seat-by-seat coaches (with the exception of metro coach) or the mini-buses (actual nightmare) keeping the cost factor in mind. Since CNG is cheaper fuel than both petrol and diesel, the fare charged from the commuters should be brought down drastically to benefit the already poverty-stricken ordinary citizens. At present the petrol prices are over Rs. 57 per liter (and it is believed that in a week's time petrol prices might be slashed by Rs 03 to Rs 04 per liter due to the reduction in the international oil prices), whereas per kg CNG rate at present in Karachi is Rs.33 which is lower than per liter price of diesel as well.

Along with this, it is the duty of the concerned authorities to implement the orders of mandatory conversion of the public petrol and diesel-run vehicles into CNG for better and cleaner environment. It was in 2002 when the Supreme Court in India issued orders mandating New Delhi's entire bus fleet to convert to CNG. And today, Delhi brags to have the largest CNG bus fleet in the world comprising over 10,000 CNG buses in service which has become the actual reason for the improved air quality in the capital city of India. Along with this, there was an order for the abrupt conversion of around 15,000 taxis to CNG or LPG for better environment. The authorities in Bangladesh decided to ban two stroke baby taxies in 2002 which were one of the major contributors to air pollution. To control air pollution, a new fleet of CNG three-wheeler was introduced henceforth.

When we talk about our country, the conversion from petrol/diesel to CNG is not a kind of effective mandatory order (with a few so-called effective examples) by any provincial government, however, various moves have been made which may bring some results if the supervision is strict. Though the authorities have issued some directives regarding conversion to CNG, there is strong need to see whether the issued directives are being implemented in the essence. The smoke emitted by the trucks and mini-buses on the roads of major cities of the country is fatally hazardous which perhaps is beyond the directives of the concerned authorities. This is supposed to be taken care of sooner rather than later for the ultimate benefit of the people of the major cities. It is pleasing to know that the Punjab government is on the move to ensure implementation of the ban on two-stroke engine rickshaws. Every one knows that there is a significant level of air pollution in Karachi. Sources quote that a programme is under implementation in Karachi for phasing out rickshaws and there is a ban on the registration of two-stroke rickshaws at present. Besides, there is possibility that in the days to come there will be a ban on the registration of diesel buses. At present, time is of the essence. Instead of waiting for the days when the situation might turn beyond the control, the concerned authorities in Karachi should strictly ban all smoke emitting vehicles (an effort already made with no strong impact so far) at any cost with immediate effect for the benefit of the citizens.

It is a matter of pride for us to see that Pakistan has become the leading country in Asia and the third largest user of CNG in the world after Argentina and Brazil. We are contributing a lot in the environmental safety of the global village. It is a fact that the citizens of our country have got their vehicles(cars and even motorcycles) converted into CNG ones solely for the economic reason on their own will and are eventually doing a good service for the protection of the mother earth. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2005-06, by March 2006 about one million vehicles were converted to CNG as compared to 700,000 vehicles during the same period last year, showing an increase of 43 per cent. There were over 700 CNG stations during 2004-05, however, at present the number of CNG stations has exceeded 930. Nobody had any inkling in the mid 80s when there were just two CNG stations in the country that within short span of time the sector would boom like the Chinese, Indian and Russian economies. A significant amount of investment has been made in the sector due to the robust demand.

Let's look at the recent global perspective of the natural gas use. Bangladesh has got more than 50,530 natural gas vehicles and there are over 129 refueling stations. Brazil is the leading user of natural gas vehicles in the world with over one million NGVs and there are over 1,000 fuelling stations in more than 140 cities across the country. Our all time friend China has got around 240,000 NGVs and there are more than 720 refuelling stations. The second biggest economy of the world, Japan, has over 25,000 NGVs and the number of refuelling stations exceeds 289. The oil and business rich United Arab Emirates is also on the serious footing of looking into the matter of global warming. At present UAE has meager number of around 250 NGVs and just 4 refuelling stations but a wave of NGVs could be expected in the days to come. Iran has got 16 percent of natural gas reservoirs of the world. At present the country's famous cities such as Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, etc. are under the serious threat of air pollution. One could expect the oil and gas rich Iran thinking seriously to boost the use of natural gas for her vehicles so that human damages could be averted. Looking at the global perspective, it could surely be said that in a couple of years Pakistan would outshine Argentina and Brazil and would become the leading user of NGVs in the world.