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Transporters strike down CNG offer

Calcutta, March 16: Weeks before the expiry of the April 2 deadline on Bharat Stage II compliance, a crucial meeting between minister Subhas Chakraborty and transport operators today ended in a deadlock.

The vehicle owners are still reluctant to replace old engines with ones that meet the new norms. At the Netaji indoor stadium meeting, they refused to attach imported devices to make the engines CNG compatible as suggested by some officials.

The operators also rejected the proposal of a California-based company that had shown interest in transporting CNG from Dubai to Calcutta. Chakraborty had asked C&L Engineers, which submitted the proposal in February, to brief the transporters to convince them about the benefits of natural gas.

The company has a unit in Dubai and at Dhuliajan in Assam. It had planned to supply the gas through small outlets in the city. In the second phase, it had suggested a CNG storage tank at Haldia, for which land has already been identified.

Apart from making CNG available, the company was also ready to supply and fit necessary conversion kits to the vehicles switching from petrol or diesel to natural gas.

Kingshuk Ghosal, a representative of the company, said given seven to eight months, they could arrange supply of 70,000 to 75,000 kg CNG to the city daily. The supply could be increased later. The cost of the conversion kits along with the charges for engine modification would amount to Rs 40,000 to Rs 45,000 for four-wheelers and Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 for buses and trucks.

Objecting to the proposal, the transporters said at the meeting that at least 500,000 kg of CNG would be required daily to cater to the commercial vehicles plying in the Calcutta metropolitan area. The amount the company is prepared to supply would be insufficient, they said.

“Three-wheelers alone will consume the entire 70,000 kg CNG. So, what would be left for the taxis, buses and trucks' Once we convert the engines, we shall have to depend entirely on CNG. If there is a gas shortfall, all vehicles would be stranded. We cannot switch engines till we are assured of adequate CNG supply,’’ Joint Council of Bus Syndicate president Sadhan Das said.

Bengal Taxi Association president Bimal Guha said: “The company officials have told us that devices brought from California would be fitted to our vehicles. What if there is a snag'’’

The government had earlier told the high court that CNG could not be accessed easily in Bengal as there is no source nearby.

Having failed to end the impasse, Chakraborty asked the company to give within a week a written offer to the transporters describing the project in detail. “We will take a final decision after getting the transporters’ opinion,’’ the minister said.

The government will have to appear before the high court on March 26 with a report on what it had done to implement its order to convert to BS II norms by April 2, 2004.

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