Mandi Gobindgarh,a steel-hub that ranks among the most critically polluted areas in the country,is set to be the first industrial city in Punjab to switch over to the use of piped natural gas (PNG) in place of the two major polluting fuels,coal and furnace oil.
On March 23,the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) commissioned its natural gas pipeline to National Fertilizers Ltd,Bathinda. Chairman of the Punjab Pollution Control Board Ravinder Singh told The Indian Express that the first town to be connected to this trunk pipeline will be Mandi Gobindgarh. GAIL is now working on the network of the gas pipelines in association with the local industry.
Both GAIL and the Punjab Pollution Control Board have been trying to build consensus in the township to switch to the use of PNG,on account of the alarming levels of pollution.
After several confidence-building sessions held by GAIL and PPCB,industrialists are now positive about using PNG in place of coal and furnace oil. Mandi Gobindgarh and adjoining Khanna have about 500 industrial units. Owners of about 200 units have deposited cheques with GAIL to get connected with the network,and more are being encouraged to join in.
Dinesh Gupta,the MD of Parbhat Heavy Forge Pvt Ltd told The Indian Express that the switchover will require an investment of Rs 10-15 lakh approximately. While Rs 7 lakh is to be deposited as an advance with GAIL,industrialists will have to make changes in the induction furnaces and install new equipment to use PNG in place of conventional fuels.
Coal is a free-market product while the supply of PNG is supplied only through GAIL. Industrialists are apprehensive that if the price of natural gas rises,their costs will also increase. There are also concerns whether industrial workers will be able to adapt to the new technology.
Vinod Vashisht,owner of Lakshmi Steel Rolling Mills,Khanna,highlighted that PNG is more expensive than coal. Small industrialists fear that with additional investment,their competitiveness in the market may be compromised.
Big industrial units were among the first to say yes to PNG. Sanjay Bansal,Director of Bansal Alloys and Metals Pvt Ltd,says the social benefits of using PNG are an important consideration,Its important to take the lead if it improves the environment. PNG will also be cost-effective in the long run, he pointed out.
Thousands of coal rakes roll into Mandi Gobindgarh every month. While neighbouring towns like Sirhind are verdant and picturesque,Mandi Gobindgarh also called Loha Mandi has coal dust and grime,which has taken a heavy toll on local environment. In 2009,the Union Environment Ministry imposed a stay on setting up of new industries,on account of the critically high levels of pollution. The stay was lifted in 2010 and PPCB assured that it would work towards improving air quality in the township.
Getting a breather
PPCB Chairman,Ravinder Singh said that with PNG,air pollution will be almost zero at Khanna and Mandi Gobindgarh. At present,steel melting and re-rolling mills,and the induction furnaces have significant dependence on coal. Hundreds of coal rakes roll into these towns daily,with heavy industrial consumption. The result is that Mandi Gobindgarh and Khanna are dusty and dirty with industrial pollution. Use of PNG in place of coal and furnace oil,the industrialists admit,will give the township space to breathe.