Ahmedabad clears the air

Thanks to the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Gujarat’s commercial capital is now the 50th most polluted city in India, down from fourth.Just a couple of years ago, few residents of Ahmedabad knew the acronym. But now every child knows he can breathe easier because 37,733 auto rickshaws have converted from petrol to CNG. “Ahmedabad provides the ideal model of how use of clean fuels can make life more healthy,” says Sanjiv Tyagi, an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer who is the member-secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and one of those responsible for bringing “hill station quality” air to this city.One of the most positive fallouts of the conversion by auto rickshaws has been on the grading of Ahmedabad on the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) that monitors the ambient air quality in 85 cities. In 2001, Ahmedabad was India’s fourth most polluted city with 198 micrograms of RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter) in every cubic metre of air. In 2002, the RSPM came down to 166 micrograms per cubic metre, in 2003 to 136. By 2006, it had come down to 96, by 2007 to 82. “We are targeting the standard of 60 RSPM. I am not making any predictions but trends till May 2008 suggest that we may be on target,” Tyagi says.As elsewhere, it was not easy to convince the auto rickshaw drivers to make the change. A state-government incentive of Rs.10,000 helped. That was the carrot. The stick was the threat by the regional transport officer that no petrol-driven auto rickshaw would be allowed on the streets after Jan 1, 2007. All this, plus the fact that CNG is much cheaper than petrol did the trick.Now other cities want to follow the Ahmedabad model. Two delegations are expected from Andhra Pradesh, one from Chennai. After the auto rickshaws, it was the turn of the buses. The Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) has converedt 610 of its 1,010-strong fleet from diesel to CNG while the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) has converted all the 155 it runs in Ahmedabad.One of the biggest problems faced in New Delhi - the first city in India where all public transport switched over to CNG - is the lack of fuel, leading to hour-long queues. Ahmedabad has tried to solve that by setting up 46 CNG stations already. AMTS has five CNG pumps of its own, while GSRTC has three. Auto rickshaws used to carry goods are next in the conversion queue, says Tyagi.

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