CNG - not quite the poor mans fuel

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Common sense would suggest that a motorcyclist is not better off than a car owner. But this motor cyclist has been buying petrol - an expensive fuel, while the car owner has had the luxury to switch to a cheaper fuel - compressed natural gas, normally known as CNG.

As interesting as this debate is, it has badly failed to stir up a change to what has taken place. And more importantly it has quashed the very belief of CNG being a poor mans fuel. CNG by all means is a blanket subsidy on a fuel that is scarce not only during the winters now, but all year round.

Experts have long argued that the use of CNG in transport sector should be regulated, especially when the countrys gas reserves are depleting fast. Setting priorities under gas shortage have taken a backstage every now and then with more political motives than economic rationale behind it.

Though it might welcome criticism from the related sectors, it would not be wrong to hold the current strategy a failure to a ballooning issue; depriving the CNG station of gas has not solved the problem so far. Cars still pile outside the CNG filling stations hours before the advertised time.

What is required is a change in how policymakers take up the challenge. It should be about a complete phase-out programme that eventually shrinks the usage of the scarce resource as against excessive sales during defined time period.

One way could be to indirectly shift the tilt from CNG; Instead of restricting the use for a major portion of the week that attracts ever increasing queues, mental and physical stress without any major drop in CNG use, it would be sound to bring CNG prices at par with the petrol prices or at least at 80 percent parity. This is possible only through price rationalisation where subsidy should only be provided to lifeline consumers.

"However, as an immediate reaction, households might be encouraged to revert to illegal and hazardous means like gas thefts and decanting of domestic gas into CNG cylinders," says Basharat Mirza, an energy expert and former MD of the Oil and Gas Development Company.

Mirza supports the idea that CNG should be restricted to public transport only. In addition to the CNG issue, the government also needs to look at the domestic tariff structure which is currently at steep discount and encourages abuse of gas especially in the form of generators, geysers, etc.

What Mirza stresses on, and rightly so, is to change public perception about CNG and domestic gas usage. Public knowledge about efficient prioritisation of the scarce resource is negligible for a country that faces a massive natural gas shortage and it needs to be informed that the optimal use of gas is not in transport but in power, fertilizer and general industries.

Unfortunately, the media is equally to blame in keeping the public ignorant about the realities of gas-onomics.

Courtesy: B R

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