Md Shabbir poses in front of his new LPG auto-rickshaw in Ranchi on Sunday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Call it a green run, albeit with hurdles all the way.
In a commendable pollution control measure, a section of Ranchi’s smoke-belching auto-rickshaws have embraced the cleaner LPG model, but dearth of refuelling stations remains a deterrent.
Over the past month, nearly five dozen of these three-wheelers have arrived in the city and are plying on some select routes, but on back-up fuel (petrol or diesel) instead of LPG.
Most of the newbies sport a lively green frame paired with yellow hood, a close cousin of auto-rickshaws in Calcutta and Delhi, though the latter uses a fossil fuel (CNG) instead of petrol, diesel or LPG. Despite being green at heart, some of these LPG auto-rickshaws have black body and are being forced to live on not-so-clean fuel.
Md Shabbir, who has recently bought a new LPG avatar, said he switched to the green fuel version because increasing air pollution levels concerned him.
“I have been reading in newspapers that the administration plans to phase out diesel and petrol autos because they are a menace. Also, last year, transport department officials had told us that gas stations are in the offing. A relative of mine in Delhi runs a CNG auto and he made me realise how efficient and environment-friendly such vehicles were. So, I bought mine a month ago,” he proudly pointed to his gleaming new vehicle.
Shabbir is not alone in this little crusade. There are other like-minded drivers too. “Isse pehle ki prashashan hata de, humne khud hi socha ke gas auto pe shift hojaye. (We decided to switch to LPG auto-rickshaws before the administration enforced a ban on diesel and petrol ones),” said Mohammad Mushtaq.
The green auto-rickshaws have a 20-litre gas tank on the lower right side and a three-litre oil tank at the rear end as back-up fuel. But, what it has in features, it lacks in infrastructure support. While Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Bokaro boast four LPG bunks together, Ranchi has none till date.
In February-March last year, the district had announced three gas stations in the capital. Then deputy commissioner K.K. Soan had asked his men to identify land on Ratu Road and in HEC and Doranda, but the project is yet to see the light of day.
“The project was conceptualised long ago and had started to roll last year, but we still don’t have land. So, it is difficult to say when Ranchi will go totally clean and green,” said Uday Kumar, IOCL’s chief area manager (Jharkhand) .
Another IOCL official said that once the acre hunt was over, a formal proposal would have to be sent to the IOCL headquarters. “The same will be forwarded to the Centre for explosives clearances. The entire process will take no less than seven-eight months. But, the first thing is to get land.”
Drivers complained that they were suffering losses.
“I had paid Rs 10,000 in advance to book my vehicle because they are not readily available in Ranchi. A city-based dealer got it for me from Bokaro. We are, currently, running on reserve petrol. Without gas stations soon, we will incur heavy losses. A litre of LPG gives a mileage of 40km, while the figure is only 25km for petrol. Besides, the back-up tank is of just three-litre capacity,” Mushtaq summed up their predicament.
Deputy commissioner V.K. Choubey conceded that they were yet to find land. “The administration is trying its best,” he kept it short.