Rising bills have turned diesel into a major worry for Indian Railways, which effected a 4.5 per cent increase in fares this week on account of escalating fuel spend.
On top of that is emission from the thousands of diesel engines, a matter that has gone to the National Green Tribunal. On July 7, Railways will have to appear before the NGT to apprise it of plans to formulate an emission standard for diesel engines, a first such move in the country.
Since diesel is a fuel Railways cannot do without — around 60 per cent of its locomotives run on diesel — a plan has been formed to try and reduce the bills, which rose 45 per cent to Rs 20,000 crore in the year ending March 31, 2014. Ironically, in the past year railways’ consumption of diesel has increased by just about three per cent, but the price of diesel rose 34 per cent.
The Ministry of Railways has called a meeting of zonal railways next month to discuss strategies to bring down the bill and save fuel. In an audit, the ministry has found that thanks to various state taxes and cesses on diesel, there is a price difference of over Rs 12 between the cheapest diesel fuelling point and the costliest across India. It has circulated a list of the 58 fuelling points where the price of the fuel is upwards of Rs 68. The ministry has asked zonal railways to avoid those places and to fill their tanks from the cheaper stations nearest their ares. The estimate is that a nominal saving of Re 1 per litre can save railways up to Rs 300 crore per year on the fuel bill.
For bringing down emission, it is learnt that the PSU Rites has been asked to carry out a study, but the amount it has quoted for the first phase of a year is still being negotiated. In a recent meeting with Rites, oil companies and the Central Pollution Control Board, Railways has discussed whether such an exercise could be part-funded by other ministries such as Environment and Petroleum.
The US and the European Union have standards for locomotives, while other countries such as Canada, China and Australia are working on standards for themselves.