Following in the footsteps of Delhi and Mumbai — albeit in slow motion — the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is finally planning to make it mandatory for three-wheelers to switch to LPG.
Transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury held a meeting with his departmental officers and representatives from the oil companies on Tuesday to talk the switchover walk.
Following the notification of central rules and modification of the Calcutta High Court judgment on compliance with Bharat Stage II norms, it is not mandatory for any vehicle-owner to switch to green fuel, transport department officials said. Any vehicle can ply in the city, as long as it meets the emission standards specified by the Centre.
Soon after the notification, the oil companies had decided to go slow in setting up LPG outlets, arguing that there would be few takers for the fuel, as the switchover was not mandatory.
“Despite this, the administration can introduce an order making it compulsory for three-wheelers to convert to LPG for the sake of the environment,” said a transport department official.
“We have targeted three-wheelers as most of the 15,000 vehicles are almost 10 years old and cause a lot of pollution. The autorickshaw operators also need not invest much to switch over to LPG, as the cost of a conversion kit is not very high. Let us start from the three-wheelers and then focus on four-wheelers,’’ he added.
According to the present plan, the switch to LPG would be a precondition for renewal of registration, as well as mandatory, while registering a new three-wheeler. Also, unauthorised vehicles would be regularised if converted to LPG.
“Apart from issuing the order, we will convince three-wheeler operators to convert to LPG for the sake of both the environment and their own gains. LPG, after all, costs less than any other fuel,’’ officials said. They added that a formal decision would only be taken after the Lok Sabha polls.
During Tuesday’s meeting, transport officials urged the oil companies to continue work on setting up the 16 LPG outlets in and around the city, as per the earlier plan.
“I tried to convince the transport secretary that setting up the LPG outlets would be a waste of public money, as there would be no takers. We have already commissioned two outlets and seven others are ready. But, as of today, the number of customers has not crossed 100,” said A.C. Dey, deputy general manager, Indian Oil Corporation, and coordinator for the oil companies.
“I, however, assured the state government that the oil companies are ready to supply the fuel in as much quantity as required. But we want customers,’’ he added. According to Dey, the oil companies would be ready to supply LPG to 15,000 autorickshaws “within a month”.
Later on Tuesday, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said the government would first try to convince auto-operators to go in for a fuel switch. “If they do not respond, we will force them to do so,’’ he warned.
The government has already initiated talks with the nationalised banks and the West Bengal State Cooperative Bank to facilitate long-term loans for vehicle-owners.
“Three-wheeler operators need a one-time investment of around Rs 12,000 to instal the conversion kit. But fuel costs will come down from Rs 38 per litre (petrol) to Rs 21 per litre (LPG). Fuel efficiency will also improve,’’ elaborated H. Mohan, joint secretary in the transport department.