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Govt looks for clean-fuel breather

New Delhi, Jan. 3: The petroleum ministry is likely to approach the Supreme Court to extend the April 1 deadline to introduce the next grade of cleaner vehicular fuels in the country.

The public sector oil companies have made huge investments to upgrade the quality of their fuels but the project work is taking longer than expected.

According to the national auto fuel policy, drawn up following the intervention of the Supreme Court, petrol and diesel supplied in 11 major cities have to be upgraded from Euro II to Euro III standards. In the rest of the country, these fuels will have to be upgraded to Euro II levels by April 1.

Cities in which petrol and diesel supplies have to be brought in line with Euro III norms include Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, Kanpur and Agra.

The Euro III grade diesel cannot have a sulphur content above 0.035 per cent, while the benzene content in petrol must not exceed 1 per cent. The Euro II grade diesel being supplied in the major cities has a sulphur content of 0.05 per cent. This itself is a sharp reduction from the earlier diesel that was being supplied.

In order to meet the April 1 deadline, the depots of the oil companies should have been stocked with cleaner fuels by January 1. This has not happened. In fact, Indian Oil's attempts to import Euro III diesel has come a cropper as the fuel was not available in sufficient quantities in the international market.

The public sector oil companies have seen their profits fall during the current fiscal as they have had to hold the prices of LPG and kerosene and even diesel despite soaring international oil prices. Strict adherence to the deadline would impose a further burden on them as stocks of Euro II fuels with them would become redundant and they would have to import Euro III fuels at high prices.

At present, only Mangalore Refineries and Petrochemicals (MRPL) and the refineries in the north east are capable of producing these fuels but they cannot meet the entire demand in the country. MRPL has already pumped the Euro III level fuels through its pipeline to Bangalore.

IOC's Panipat and Mathura refineries which cater to the entire northern region will be able to supply Euro III grade petrol and diesel only by January 15.

Bharat Petroleum's refinery in Mumbai is expected to supply Euro II grade fuels from mid-January and the Euro III grade from February. Hindustan Petroleum's Mumbai refinery is not in a position to produce these fuels before April. Its Vizag refinery will produce the cleaner fuels from January-end.

Carmakers and two-wheeler manufacturers claim to be ready with new engines for their vehicles to be able to meet the new standards as soon as they are notified. However, if the oil refineries secure an extension of the deadline, the vehicle manufacturers will also seek to push back their deadline for the introduction of the new tail-pipe emission standards.

As of now, the ministry of surface transport, which monitors emission standards in vehicles, has not indicated that it will support the petroleum ministry in trying to push back the deadline.

The Supreme Court has become less and less tolerant of pleas by the various stakeholders to push back deadlines for the introduction of tough environmental standards.

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