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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Agartala to become India’s first ‘green city’

Residents of Agartala now have a choice of giving their loved ones an eco-friendly funeral. Instead of using the traditional firewood, they can opt for a cost-effective pyre run on compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG-run pyres are both cheaper and more environment-friendly and are becoming popular among the city’s residents. The Battala crematorium, the largest in Agartala, supports three ovens run on CNG.

The Agartala Municipal Council has in fact adopted a policy of encouraging the CNG-based crematorium over conventional fuelwood and electricity-based ones.

Shankar Das, chairperson of the Agartala Municipal Council, explains that using the CNG pyre costs a family only Rs 150; the conventional pyre costs Rs 350. “There are some sentiments involved but we try to reassure the relatives of the dead that burning CNG costs less and is less polluting,” he says.

Agartala, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Tripura, is located 2 km from the Bangladesh border. The city is maintained by the Agartala Municipal Council (AMC), and is divided into a number of wards, each with an elected ward representative or municipal councillor.

Recently, the Tripura government announced plans to switch all public and private vehicles in the capital to compressed natural gas by 2013, making it ‘India’s first green city’. CNG is a fossil fuel substitute for petrol, diesel and propane. Although its combustion does produce greenhouse gas, it is cleaner than the abovementioned fuels, and safer in the event of a spill (natural gas is lighter than air and disperses quickly when released).

CNG is economical and safe to use as an automotive fuel. It is dispensed to vehicles at 200 kg/cm2 pressure. It is used in traditional petrol internal-combustion-engine cars that have been converted to bi-fuel vehicles (petrol/CNG). Natural gas vehicles are increasingly being used in Europe and South America due to rising petrol prices.

Due to the absence of lead or benzene in CNG, the problem of sparkplugs fouling is eliminated. CNG-powered vehicles have lower maintenance costs too, compared with other-fuel-powered vehicles. CNG fuel systems are sealed, preventing spillage and evaporation loss. Another practical advantage is the increased life of lubricating oils, as CNG does not contaminate and dilute the crankcase oil. Being a gaseous fuel, it mixes easily and evenly in air.

According to Das, autorickshaws plying in Agartala city and other parts of the state are already using CNG. “We are trying to encourage its use in other public transport as well. The Tripura Road Transport Corporation will soon be plying buses that run on CNG. An average car can run 22.05 km on 1 kg of CNG, against 25 km on 1 litre of petrol,” he says.

Tripura Natural Gas Co Ltd (TNGCL), a joint venture of the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) and the Tripura and Assam governments, has undertaken to supply CNG to all private and government vehicles. GAIL is India’s largest natural gas transportation company, integrating all aspects of the natural gas value chain. GAIL was listed by Forbes as one of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies, in 2007. The first CNG station in eastern India was set up at Arundhuti Nagar, Agartala, Tripura, by TNGCL.

“The bottling of gas for cooking purposes is now done here itself though it comes from sources in the neighbouring state of Assam. CNG will also be available to those using electricity, petrol and diesel to run various machines,” says Das.

Housewife Shikha Sutradhar has been using CNG in her kitchen for over five years, and she’s not complaining. “It emits no soot or smoke. It even cooks faster than the normal liquid propane gas (LPG). Moreover, it’s cheaper,” she says. Her family of five used to require two cylinders of LPG every month; one LPG cylinder cost her Rs 350. Now, she spends just Rs 350 for piped gas for the month. Shikha’s entire neighbourhood has converted to CNG.

TNGCL has been supplying piped natural gas (PNG) to almost one-third of the city, covering over 7,500 families and two-thirds of hotels, restaurants and sweet shops in Agartala. Pabitra Kar, chairperson of TNGCL, says: “By 2013, we plan to cover the entire city of Agartala with PNG and turn the city into a ‘green’ city. We are also planning to set up more CNG stations and, in another three years’ time, we will covert more than 70% of autorickshaws and smaller private vehicles to CNG.”

Agartala has become the fourth city in India, after New Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow, to run CNG vehicles on a large scale. The authorities have also issued circulars to all government departments stating that they should hire only CNG-run vehicles. Kar explains: “We already have abundant natural gas in our region. By replacing fossil fuels like petrol and diesel with CNG we are being both eco-friendly as well as economical.”

The trend has spread to all sectors. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Agartala now has a CNG connection in its operation theatres, kitchen and bio-medical waste-disposal section. Almost 10 units at the Budjung Nagar industrial area use CNG as fuel in their furnaces; this has the added advantage of no power supply interruptions. Even laboratories at educational institutions are turning to natural gas.

“All the power projects are running on CNG. Two more power projects are coming up in the state which will also be gas-based,” says Kar. TNGCL is going to lay a gas pipeline from Maharajganj Bazaar to the Lichubagan area to cater to the needs of the new capital complex and adjacent areas. This will expand the CNG network to the entire northeast.

Efforts to turn Agartala into a ‘green’ city will also involve a sustained campaign on afforestation in and around the city. Agartala’s population in 2004 was 367,822 (it was 189,327 in the 2001 census). “It was a ‘green’ city and we want it to remain one. Already, 10,000 saplings were planted last year. This year, in the months of May and June, we will have a Briksha Mahotsav, or ‘tree festival’, where we will plant trees and guard them,” says Das.

Also on the cards is solar energy. The Tripura government has decided to make using solar energy mandatory in commercial, government and private buildings. This will help reduce dependence on conventional energy. The project will be undertaken by the Tripura Renewable Energy Development Agency (TREDA), an autonomous body.

In fact, the Union Ministry of Non-conventional and Renewable Energy has pledged to turn 60 cities across India into ‘solar cities’ within the next few years; the initiative includes the state capitals of all the northeastern states. To set an example for other cities, the ministry has decided to develop two cities as model solar cities, where an entire solar energy system will be set up to include street lights, garden lights, traffic lights, hoardings and solar water heaters. Energy-efficient ‘green’ buildings will be promoted on a large scale. The initiative, called ‘Development of Solar Cities’, will be implemented during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12), and will be based on a model already being practised in New York, Tokyo and London.


Agartala Municipal Council
City Centre Complex
Paradise Chowmuhani
Agartala 799001
Tel: (0381)-2325507/2325646/2325149

By Teresa Rehman


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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