As the city hurtles down fume-filled streets towards the April 2004 deadline for Bharat Stage II, through the cloud of confusion comes one voice of unanimity: oil companies insisting that LPG is the means to a clean-air end and that D-Day is more achievable than absurd.
But the ground reality — the deserted, solitary LPG outlet on Prince Anwar Shah Road — fuels anything but confidence.
The high court, while ordering old vehicles to either switch to LPG or CNG or any other conventional method to reduce auto emission, had also directed oil companies to take the initiative to set up adequate LPG outlets in and around the city.
The state government was asked to monitor the progress in setting up LPG outlets.
“We have already commissioned the first LPG outlet in the city on Prince Anwar Shah Road and work on another 13 pumps is in progress. We expect these 14 LPG outlets to be ready within the high court deadline,’’ said Indian Oil Company (IOC) general manager P.K. Basu.
The 14 LPG pumps will be at Prince Anwar Shah Road, Salt Lake, Belghoria, Alipore, Tollygunge, Rajarhat, Dum Dum airport, Sodepur, Behala, Bishnupur, Beleghata, Garpar, the Kasba connector and Garia.
This is a far cry from the earlier target of 43 LPG outlets by April 2004. Admitting to a slowdown, IOC officials said setting up an LPG outlet required several preventive measures being taken, as per the Indian Explosives Act, and with vehicle-owners reluctant to change their engines, there was no visible demand for the alternative fuel.
“But after the December 12 high court order, we have asked the officers to speed up work and get 14 units ready by the deadline,’’ said Basu.
As using cylinders in vehicles is not permissible, LPG pumps are a must. Of the 14 LPG outlets, IOC will set up five and the other three oil companies three each. “There is no scarcity of LPG and we are ready to supply as much gas as required,” said the IOC general manager.
“We shall set them up in some select petrol pumps with our own investment and the pump-owners will operate them on a commission,’’ added Basu, admitting that pump-owners do not find installing LPG pumps feasible.
Take one look at the LPG outlet on Prince Anwar Shah Road, with no more than 20 takers, and you know why.
Joydeb Sarkar, president of Petroleum Dealers’ Association, elaborates: “There is no surety of returns at the moment. At least Rs 60 lakh has to be invested to set up an LPG pump within an existing outlet. But where is the demand' Just a handful of vehicle-owners have converted their cars from petrol to LPG.”
Sarkar, however, said the gauntlet would be picked up provided the government did its bit: “Let the government force car-owners to change the old engines and we shall lose no time in setting up LPG outlets,’’ he claimed.