Clean air: Should you trust your govt?


NEW DELHI: Who was the first to announce the formation of a committee on an automobile fuel policy? It was Madanlal Khurana, a Delhi BJP leader and a high voltage spokesman for transport operators. He should not have had anything to do with the appointment of a Union government committee.

Four months later who was the first to welcome the findings of the committee? It was Khurana again, this time declaring victory over proponents of CNG as a clean fuel.

Has the committee, headed by R A Mashelkar, director-general of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Reasearch, been a pawn in a game to win votes in Delhi, skew a court battle and stifle an environmental campaign?

Mashelkar vehemently denies it, but it is a fact that the committee’s interim report was rushed through the Cabinet in just eight days, which is really breakneck speed. It was also given all the sanctity of a final report.

The committee was set up in the wake of the problems of introducing CNG in Delhi. Its job was to help choose a clean fuel and engine technology. Its primary concern was public health and effect of pollution on ordinary people.

The interim report has said that any fuel and technology can be used as long as emission norms are met. This has been interpreted to mean that buses can run on diesel in Delhi and the days of long CNG queues are over.

The government has done nothing to contradict this impression. But in his interview with this paper on Wednesday, Mashelkar said that was not the case. The committee was not against any fuel and CNG could well be used and should be made available in plenty with the proper conversion of engines.

It took an interview to get this out. The report, on its part, clearly says that there is a shortage of CNG. When asked to explain this, Mashelkar said the committee’s observation was based on information provided by the Union petroleum ministry. Did the ministry then mislead the committee?

More intriguing is the apparent unwillingness of the committee to pin down the government. It does not seem to have sought an answer for the tardy manner in which the government has gone about supplying CNG, accepting deadlines in court and then missing them. A committee cosisting of men of science whose primary concern was public health should have been eager to get such an explanation.

Regarding the oil industry, the report says that huge investments are needed to provide the best quality diesel. It makes no mention of the corresponding cost of pollution, estimated at Rs 1000 crore for health a year in Delhi alone. It also omits the fact that four refineries —— Reliance, Mathura, Haldia and Bharat Petroleum —— are already in a position to supply the best quality diesel.