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Govt pause on green fuel conversion

The transport department has not allowed conversion of vehicles to LPG, a sure way of cleaning up the city air, for the past six months.

“Over the past few months, we have repeatedly sought the transport department’s permission to retrofit LPG kits to vehicles but have not received any response. We were told unofficially that the department had not decided on allowing such conversions. Retrofitting is going on in every state apart from Bengal,” said Pankaj Jain, a retrofitter in north Calcutta.

Conversion of vehicles to LPG was being done in the state since 2003, when the state government had published a gazette notification formalising the process.

Agencies that have been denied permission to retrofit LPG kit claim to have clearances from the Automotive Research Authority of India, the central government agency authorised to provide the technical green light, and also the regional transport authorities. “We also have a licence from the transport department but it needs to be renewed because new emission standards have been set under the Euro III and IV norms. Unfortunately, the department is sitting on renewals,” said a retrofitter.

Even the regional transport authorities are clueless about the government’s intention.

“I (would) like to request you to instruct us regarding the matter of retrofitting of LPG kits in used vehicles early as the retrofitters are pressing hard for the same,” wrote a regional transport officer recently to the deputy secretary of transport department. A copy of the letter is with Metro.

Transport secretary B.P. Gopalika said he did not know about any restriction on retrofitting. “I have no idea about such a recent restriction. If somebody has valid documents they should not be denied permission for retrofitting. I will look into the matter,” said Gopalika. However, Metro has letters from more than one retrofitting agency to Gopalika, requesting clearance.

According to an estimate, about 3,000 four-wheelers in the city and surrounding areas would have converted to the environment-friendly fuel if the transport department had not applied the brakes on the process. “At least 200 cars are waiting to be converted in my unit,” said Sk. Asmad, a retrofitter in Barrackpore.

About 11,000 four-wheelers are plying on LPG in greater Calcutta, less than 2 per cent of the total number. The demand for LPG conversion has shot up in recent times because of the steep increase in petrol price. However, the only way Calcuttans can switch to the relatively cheap green fuel is buying a car fitted with LPG kit in the factory. There are 5,000 such four-wheelers in the city.

A senior transport official said the government was hesitant to allow retrofitting as too many conversions could trigger a shortage of LPG. The fear seems unfounded after a visit to LPG dispensing stations in and around the city.

“We have about six LPG stations in and around the city, and almost all of them remain grossly under-utilised,” said V. Subba Rao, the deputy general manager of Go Gas, which has about 150 LPG dispensing outlets across the country.

“LPG conversions are not happening in Calcutta for the past few months. As a result, one of our pumps dispenses hardly 80 litres of LPG a day, much below its capacity of 4,000 litres per day. The other pumps are doing marginally better,” said Subba Rao.

The demand for LPG by autos has dipped as replacement of old three-wheelers with new LPG ones stalled last year and many of the green autos have switched back to katatel, alleged emission expert S.M. Ghosh.