In the last week of July, the High Court in Gujarat, India ordered the state government to ensure that all public and private vehicles registered in the state switch to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) within a year.
This is surely a tall order anywhere and Gujarat is no exception. The highly industrialized region in western India has some CNG infrastructure already, but CNG costs more in Gujarat than in Delhi or Mumbai, though Gujarat’s largest city Ahmedabad has equal pollution issues – making an environmental case for CNG in the region. This price obstacle was the impetus for a petition before the High Court to bring the price of CNG under regulation, but the High Court hearing the petition has taken the issue a serious step further.
We have seen similar decrees for fuel-specific use in a jurisdiction, such as the 1998 Supreme Court Directive in Delhi to replace or convert all buses, three-wheelers and taxis to CNG, but the Gujarati are questioning the court’s authority to order state legislation, particularly for all vehicles. A senior government representative was quoted in the Hindustan Times saying the state will fight it. “The high court order is not practically possible to implement as it has wider implications. We will challenge it in the Supreme Court.”
Are the logistics of a rapid switch on such a grand scale even reasonable for Gujarat? TheTimes of India reports that the existing infrastructure is unable to support the 32 lakr (3.2 million) vehicles in the state, given only about 4 lakr (400,000) are CNG at present, and the cost of converting the entire public and private fleet within one year would be, frankly, astronomical.
Citizens and auto dealers are alarmed, according to many news outlets. Some districts of the state of Gujarat currently do not have much CNG infrastructure at all. And aside from fuel station scarcity, TheHindu presents the facts on commodity obstacles as well. The region has to import natural gas to meet its current demand so a rapid switch will certainly have repercussions.
In any case, whether the all-CNG directive will go ahead or be successfully challenged remains unclear, but if the goal was to get the people of Gujarat talking about natural gas transportation, then success is achieved. The world waits with interest to see how this plays out.