New Delhi – A Case Study of the CNG revolution

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 [8]. 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’’ [7]. 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 [4]. 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 [1].

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 [1]. 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 [5]. 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.


  1. Hohne, N., Burck, J., Eisbrenner, K., Vieweg, M. and Grieβhaber, L., “Scorecards on best and worst policies for green new deal”, WWF and E3G, Nov 2009.
  2. Jalihal, S. A and Reddy, T. S., “CNG- An alternative fuel for public transport”, Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, May 2006.
  3. Narain, U. and Krupnick, A., “The impact of Delhi’s CNG program on air quality”, Resources for the Future, February 2007.
  4. Singhal, B., “Presentation on the introduction of CNG in Delhi”, Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System Ltd.
  5. Joshi, S., “200 cities to get CNG, PNG by 2015”, The Hindu.
  6. Choubey, U. D., “Need for partnership based model”, Financial Express, July 2008.
  7. Jain, S., “Smog city to Clean Capital – How Delhi did it”, Mumbai Newsline, May 2004.
  8. “England in India and Sri Lanka, 1992-93”, ESPN Cricinfo.


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7 responses to “New Delhi – A Case Study of the CNG revolution

  1. Furqan Gilani

    A very well-written blog!!

  2. gatorgreg

    My problem for India is the supply of natural gas. They have found quite a bit off the southwestern portion of the country if I am not mistaken but India is still developing. I am skeptical whether they can continue to supply enough natural gas from domestic sources.

    India does have one huge advantage and that is its location to two very large natural gas areas: the Middle East and western Australia. This geographical advantage should allow India to continue growth in its CNG industry but of course relying on imports can be a dangerous proposition (see Europe). At least they have two major sources nearby rather than one.

    • Thanks a lot for your comments.
      Since, India doesn’t happen to be well endowed with energy resources, the primary focus is on cleaner air rather than on foreign oil independence. India being the fourth largest consumer of oil in the world cannot wish away energy dependence, simply for the reason that it is still dependent on 70% of oil coming from imports.
      Moreover as you rightly pointed, such dependency can prove to be harmful and thus exploration into the hitherto unexplored basins has been given a fillip. However the recent gas finds are very far and few and it’s not expected to change the energy profile anytime soon. Nonetheless, what is more alarming is, due to poor regulation and conformance in the past, the quality of air has degraded to a dangerous extent. It is in this view argued that having efficient public transport systems running on CNG and electricity (Metro rails), would not only clean up the air but also reduce the import bill, not altogether displacing imports.

  3. ll22584

    CNG does not only emit less pollutants compared to gasoline, the production of CNG (by compressing pipeline natural gas or from landfill biogas) is more environmental friendly as well (in that it has much lower CO2 emission than other fuels) [1].
    The concept of bi-fuel vehicles mentioned in the blog post really allows a convenient way to incorporate CNG as an assessable fuel source without having to completely abandoning the familiar option of gasoline for a new CNG consumer. It’s also rather convenient to convert an existing gasoline car to a CNG car.
    CNG cars also make better vehicles in general. It has lower maintenance costs, less observed fuel loss, observed increase in life of lubrication oils [1], and it’s also a very safe vehicle (perhaps even more so than conventional gasoline cars [2]). The only downside of a CNG car seems to be the space required to store the CNG, which ultimately eliminates storage space in the car. But this seems to be a small price to pay for a cleaner and more efficient vehicle.


  4. lmmlima

    South America is leading the natural gas vehicle (NGV) as an alternative source of fuel for transportation with a share of 39% of the global market [1].
    The drivers that install the gas kit are interested in reducing their fuel consumption costs.
    Even though the use of CNG may scare car owners, the CNG is less dense than the air. Thus, in the case of leaks it quickly dissipates in the atmosphere, which reduces the probability of accidents. From the Brazilian experience, the accidents registered until these days where caused by vehicles that had its compressed air cylinders installed by illegitimate workshops.
    One of the drawbacks as mentioned before is the loss of storage space, but nowadays some gas kits can be installed underneath the car [2]. Unfortunately the article is in Portuguese but there is a picture of the new system. Another drawback of using CNG is that it reduces car power, which can be solved by using CNG in cars that can run with either ethanol or gasoline because engine compression ratio is higher.

  5. hjongsoo

    Interesting and informational blog and comments; I wanted to add some more about CNG cars in the U.S. The number of CNG vehicle is dramatically increasing as an alternative fuel-driven car[3]. But many of them are mass transportation vehicles like buses. Then, what about the availability of CNG passenger vehicles and how about driving them as a personal vehicle?
    First of all, the most important thing is safety. As the CNG cylinder in the car contains high pressure more than 200(!) atm, it is crucial to know the safety standard of the cylinder. It is said by DOE that the cylinders are manufactured to withstand severe impact and environmental exposure and CNG is less dense than air to diffuse easily rather than creating a puddle under the car[4]. So, this sounds safe enough.
    Then, is it available and convenient? There is only one passenger car available in the U.S. (Honda Civic GS sedan)[1] Of course, this car is operated only by CNG, not a bi-fueled car. Hence you have to know where the fueling stations are. There seems to be only 23 CNG stations in Texas!: 3 in Austin, 5 in Dallas/Fort Worth area and 2 in Houston and etc.[2] In addition, some of them may not be open to the public![4] But there’s something to note. If you have a natural gas line at home, you could get a home refueling device equipped with the gas line and refuel your vehicle overnight at home[5].
    It seems like that there’s a way to drive it but I am not sure how many people would choose CNG cars to contribute a small portion to the environment in this circumstance. However, installing CNG kits to the existing vehicle would be more attractive at this stage. More infrastructure and regulatory framework would be necessary to bolster the fuel conversion to CNG.


  6. reasmacken

    Spending my spring break in India on a Global Connections trip, I have been able to spend time in three major Indian cities to see the traffic levels and understand the implications of implementing a CNG-fueled public fleet. My first exposure to India was a three day trip in New Delhi, where the taxis are stamped with a CNG label. Considering the level of traffic, and after reading this post about the pollution levels before the CNG implementation, I am amazed that a city the size of Delhi with the considerable number of taxis and tuk-tuks was able to successfully and efficiently implement this policy in the time it did. I wonder how efficient it is for the drivers to fill up considering the number of vehicles on the rode and the density of the population?

    After reading this post and thinking about my current experience, I compare it to my thoughts after a five-week trip to South America before I came back to school. I was amazed at the number of smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and was disappointed in the Americans tendency to go bigger and bigger. The rise in fuel prices has obviously changed that trend, and I am amazed that less developed countries have approached vehicles and fuel efficiency in a way that the U.S. can strive towards. Of course, population density, wealth, and economic development phase play a role in the choices that are made, but it does give some interesting contrast.

    While the Indians have looked to CNG to help reduce pollution levels, it is still apparent in the major cities that pollution is a major problem even with the steps taken. I am interested to see how things progress in this respect, and will be tracking the progress of the Indian nation both from a business and economic standpoint and from a fuel efficiency and pollution reducing standpoint.

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