Not very long ago in 1993, during the English cricket tour of India, when the visitors lost a match, they attributed part of their loss to the air pollution in Delhi – the capital city of India . Perhaps they were bad losers, but we must admit that the pollution levels were dangerously high enough for it to be listed amongst the world’s most polluted cities. Vehicular emissions, which accounted for 70% of the air pollution, would morph into deadly smog during the foggy winters resulting in an increase in respiratory illnesses, with children and senior citizens being the worst affected. With the economy shifting gears around the same time amidst increasing middle class aspirations, with about 500 new vehicles being added every day, a turnaround seemed highly improbable.
Ever since then, Delhi has won the US Department of Energy’s first ‘Clean Cities International Partner of the Year’ award in 2003 for ‘‘bold efforts to curb air pollution and support alternative fuel initiatives’’ . In a unique display of judicial activism, the Supreme Court of India ordered the responsible government to switch its public-transit system to a cleaner-burning fuel in response to citizens concerns about air pollution. Buoyed by the public pressure, the government of New Delhi reluctantly as is typical of a developing nation, complied and enforced regulations to convert its entire fleet of diesel and gasoline dependent public transport system to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) by 2002. It’s funny to note that the court actually slapped a fine of about $450 on the Union government, for repeatedly seeking a modification in the order . To its credit, once the government set about preparing a comprehensive action plan by passing the desired legislation and setting up the infrastructure necessary for such a transition, it earned the recognition of drafting one amongst the top 12 best policies in the world, as per a study conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and E3G .
Between 2000 and 2008, the Carbon emissions plummeted by 72%, while the SO2 emissions decreased by 57% on account of 3500 CNG buses, 12000 taxis, 65000 auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and 5000 mini buses plying on CNG . CNG is mainly comprised of methane, which upon combustion mainly emits CO2 and H2O and being lighter disperses very quickly, whereas gasoline and diesel being more complex, emit more harmful emissions such as NOX and SOX. Owing to the recent volatility in the oil prices and continued patronage of CNG by the government by way of subsidies, the general public has begun to increasingly incorporate CNG kits in their private vehicles, which facilitates them to run on dual fuel mode. Encouraged by the public response, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has set about an ambition plan of bringing 200 cities under the supply network of CNG and Piped Natural Gas (PNG) by 2015 . For a country which depends on 70% of oil imports, the recent indigenous gas discoveries in the K.G Basin and elsewhere have only brightened our outlook for lesser dependence on foreign oil, enabling us to save valuable foreign exchange. In view of growing awareness for cleaner air and climate change, there’s many a lesson to be learnt from Delhi’s resurgence.
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