Post Gujarat Incident Analysis on CNG Situation in Pakistan (Report)
Recently, more than 15 school children at least and a teacher were killed due to an explosion in a school van; in Gujarat, Pakistan. The explosion blast caused a big fire, immediately completely destroying the vehicle. Initial investigation pointed at the faulty wiring to be the cause of the fire. Due to a short circuit, the gas was ignited, when the van tried to switch from CNG to petrol.
It is common in Pakistan for public and private transport to have been fitted with compressed natural gas kits, because it is supposedly cheaper than petrol. However, these kits often pose a safety risk to passengers of the vehicles they are fitted in. This incident in Gujarat is not the first – nor an isolated one, but one of the many to have occurred due to a CNG kit being fitted in the vehicle.
One common misconception is that, the cylinder would have exploded because of it being heated by the harsh temperatures the vehicle is being driven in, leading to the expansion of the gas and eventually it exploding. While, this very well could be one of the reasons as well, there are many other reasons why a CNG cylinder can explode.
One of the reasons – like the one in the recent Gujarat tragedy – is the faulty wiring. The technicalities of the kit aren’t often checked and people opt for cheapest option in order to save money. Nevertheless, when it comes to the safety of yourself and others, money isn’t something that should be an issue.
When we try to save money, we are cheating ourselves and putting ourselves in to a health and safety risk. People also habitually blame the Pakistani government for not having enough vehicle checks. While this is a valid concern and the government should crack down on illegal CNG parts sellers/kit outfitters, people should also have some common sense.
Some of the other reasons for CNG cylinders exploding are: leaking of gas from the high pressure piping due to many different reasons, detaching of the CNG cylinder, sparking and igniting of the air-gas mixture due to various things like lighters, match sticks etc. Another set of reasons which is something the Pakistani government should look in to as soon as possible, are the malfunctioning of unapproved faulty parts in the CNG kit.
Many public transport vehicles have CNG kits and due to saving cost, people often go to the places where you can get it cheaply. In Pakistan, cheaply often means illegal. The drivers or owners of those vehicles do not care or bother to check whether the CNG kit has proper parts or not. Not only that, but if it has been properly fitted or not. One of the causes of CNG cylinder explosion is the detachment of the cylinder.
Bursting of unapproved cylinders, welded cylinders and cylinders that are not manufactured for CNG use is a cause of an explosion. Bursting of unapproved valves, leakage of gas from the cylinder valve, leakage of gas from the filling valve and bursting of gas from the CNG pressure regulator due to malfunctioning of the first stage valve; are also some of the concerns. Note that, the first stage valve only malfunctions, if it replaced with a dead plug and this practice has been known to occur, if CNG kit is outfitted cheaply.
Some of the CNG kit providers, to make money, often give second hand or faulty parts to the customers. The kit that they outfit in the vehicle has parts, which shouldn’t be there – sometimes to the client, they say that the kit is brand new and authorized, but it is far from the truth. This way they make money. They cheat their customers.
So who is at fault here? Who is responsible and who should be blamed? For the Gujarat van fire, for the devastating incident in Faisalabad last month – where due to a gas leak, the cylinder exploded in a van killing 3 people and injuring 5 and for all the similar incidents and CNG related deaths in Pakistan?
In the Faisalabad fire, it wasn’t only the case of faulty CNG kit parts or something that can be blamed on the government alone. It was also due to the negligence of the driver, that those people died and got injured. People in the van had complained about the smell of gas, but instead of stopping the van to check, the driver kept driving.
What can be done to solve the issue of CNG related incidents in the country?
There are two main schools of thoughts, to finding a solution to this issue. One solution is that, CNG kits should be banned from being used in public transport – vans and buses. The other solution is a bit lengthier and complicated than just banning the use of CNG.
Firstly, would like to clarify a misconception.
There’s a particular thinking which hints at the fact that, if CNG kits were to be banned from public transportation, accidents would not happen in Pakistan; that it is due to CNG kits peoples’ lives are at a constant risk. This is only partially the truth. Contrary to popular belief, no approved cylinders have ever been involved in an incident relating to public transportation, in Pakistan’s CNG history. All CNG cylinders of a particular approved shape and size have generally been considered safe.
A cylinder of standard manufacturing size of NSZ 5454 does not burst or explode and neither should it. However, some of the cylinders which have taken the lives of as many as more than 100 people over the past few months, weren’t of the standard approved size; hence they could have contributed to the incidents that occurred.
The transport sector had been under scrutiny, for being supplied CNG, while it is deprived in other places where it is necessary. While in April 2013, the National Accountability Bureau had taken notice of the complaints by the industrial sector to reduce or ban the gas supply to the transport sector, nothing really came out of it. This is despite the NAB being in full acknowledgement of the fact that, CNG is needed for the CPPs. (Captive Power Plants) The power plants are closed or inefficient at the moment and not producing enough electricity, because of the lack of gas supply.
Fertiliser industry and other industries, particularly in Punjab, are also complaining about the lack of gas supply, even though these industries are listed as high priority for gas load management. Factories are running at sub-optimal levels due to shortage of gas, which has led to losses for many high-profile companies and the closure of smaller ones. What this has done is, it is has led to a lot of workforce redundancies, because if there is no gas, there won’t be no production/manufacturing and hence, no work for the labour.
While the CNG that is being supplied to the transport sector, has led to a multitude of CNG related incidents and deaths, in public transport buses and vans. The whole system of CNG usage in public transportation is wrong and should be revamped. Also, the CNG that is being supplied to the transport sector can be diverted to power plants and industries to power the economy. If people are working, if industry is running, then economy is climbing and there will be less inflation. When that is the case, people will have more disposable income and they won’t hesitate to spend it on petrol/diesel instead of CNG. Furthermore, if CNG is being out to good use and electricity is being generated using it, people aren’t faced with cruel load shedding, then people won’t voice out against a CNG ban for transport sector and vehicles in general.
People who have lost lives to CNG incidents would agree that CNG kits in public transport should not be there, even if they can be somehow assured of the fact that, if an approved CNG kit is placed in a public transport van or bus, then those losses of lives can somehow be avoided. Not all people want CNG kits in public transport and it is evident after a citizen went and filed a petition in Lahore High Court after the Gujarat incident, asking the government to ban CNG usage in public transport. The LHC in return, has also filed a notice to city district government and others, over seeking action and imposing a ban on the use of CNG in commercial vehicles.
The easiest option, but with a lot of public outcry - would be to ban the usage of CNG in public transport. One of the reasons public outcry can occur is, if they ban CNG and transport owners/companies start to charge people more for their services; because they will have to use petrol or diesel. In this case, the government can either reduce the price of petrol or diesel, so the transport companies don’t have to charge the customers extra, or the government can give transport companies subsidies to compensate for the non-availability of CNG.
This is a good option, since the country is going through gas shortage at the moment and at the same time, something far worse. People are suffering from immense load shedding and there is ruthless non-availability of electricity in Pakistan. The gas that should be used to power electricity generating plants is being used in vehicles and it is being burnt off. It is being wasted. Instead of using CNG at homes and in cars, it should be given to power plants and to industries – on a ration basis – to power the economy and bring stability back in to the country.
CNG in vehicles shouldn’t be banned indefinitely, only until the electricity situation gets sorted in the country, because this is the top most priority at the moment and should be, for the government. People have enjoyed for roughly 10 years, by using CNG cheaply in their vehicles, when they couldn’t afford petrol. The government shouldn’t have approved CNG usage in cars in the first place – for a country highly short on CNG, it still has the largest population of CNG powered vehicles in the world – but it did.
What CNG did is, it added more vehicles on to the roads, but now with the current situation, the bubble is about to be burst. Government is short on CNG and needs gas to get electricity and plus with all the incidents related to CNG cylinders in public transport – a logical thing to do would be to ban it, so people should be ready for this. Think about it, do you value your lives and want electricity, or do you want to drive your vehicles using CNG, but be lingered with heat and frustration of no electricity?
The other option is more complicated. The government should implement stringent rules when it comes to vehicles – both public and private transport. Vehicle fitness certificates should be checked, CNG rules & laws should be updated – the last time rules and laws were updated regarding CNG usage in Pakistan was in 1992.
Not only does the government need to check vehicle fitness certificates, but the government needs to start a yearly inspection of vehicles. At the moment, there is no check and balance in the country. People can buy and sell vehicles as they please, no matter how old they are and get them registered or approved.
If CNG kits are to continue in Pakistan, then the government should at least inspect the vehicles on an yearly basis and check whether the kits are fitted properly and whether they have the proper approved parts or not. What this will do is, it will instil fear in to the faulty parts sellers and help curb such incidents like Gujarat, from happening.
Also, after a vehicle is converted to CNG/fitted with a CNG kit, it should be inspected by an inspector from HDIP (Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan) and then the owner should be given a stamped certificate to display in his public transport vehicle. Also, his CNG kit should be stamped to let people know that it is approved and safe.
CNG itself should only be provided to the vehicles which have the stamped certificate in the vehicle – upon asked by the personnel at the CNG station. This way, only approved vehicles will be getting CNG. What this will do is, there will be a dramatic decrease in the usage of CNG and at the same time, people would want to use CNG in their vehicles so they will go get their vehicles approved. It will be a win win situation for the government and people. Less use of CNG and vehicles would become safer, for people to travel in.
One of the problems with the CNG related incidents was not only the technical/mechanical failures of the CNG kits or the lack of interest in to the matter by the government; but also driver negligence. While the passengers kept complaining about the smell of gas, the driver paid no heed to their objections and kept driving.
This is a big problem in Pakistan. Driver negligence and how it becomes a hindrance, in the way of peoples’ safety. This isn’t only a matter of concern related to the drivers of public transportation, but also private vehicles. It is very easy to get a license in Pakistan – will not go in to the reasons why, as it would derail the topic on hand, but it is – and not only that, but people do not obey the traffic rules and regulations. Most of the times, people don’t even bother to get a license and drive without it.
For public transportation at least, it should be made compulsory for the drivers to go through training and some sort of road education, before they are given a permit to drive busses and vans etc. The licenses issued to the drivers of public transport, should be different than the ones issued to private vehicle owners. Traffic police of each province, should be asked to check the licenses on a regular basis and also, the license should be made in such a way, that it is hard to duplicate or fake.
Road education for people in Pakistan is very important. If the person had been given road education, it would have increased the chances of him stopping his vehicle, checking the gas leak and maybe preventing the loss of so many lives in Gujarat. There is an urgent need of such road education in Pakistan and also, to develop and implement stricter traffic rules and laws. If people are made to feel the burden of their actions and the consequences that follow, they just might start to take a bit more responsibility.
First of all, regardless of whether CNG in public transportation is banned or not, the traffic laws and regulations should be updated and also, implemented. Licensing drivers, should be a priority and also, giving road education. Irrespective of whether a vehicle is running on CNG or not, first and foremost priority should be to reduce the amount of road accidents in Pakistan, in general too. This is due to the fact that people don’t follow traffic rules and regulations. People still speed, because they know that the fine isn’t going to be too much. Fines should be increased in value, so people feel the burden of paying them. A comprehensive national level safety plan should be formulated amid high levels of road casualties and incidents.
According to the latest WHO data published in April 2011 Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in Pakistan reached 20,154 or 1.58% of total deaths. The number of road deaths per 10,000 vehicles in the country is one of the highest in the world. The government puts the economic cost of road accidents and injuries at more than $100m per year, but only a fraction of that amount is spent on road safety and educating motorists. This is a national level tragedy.
Public transportation in Pakistan is mainly used by the poor, who can’t afford to use private vehicles and travel. Majority of public transportation usage is not inter-city, but country wide domestic – linking different cities to one another. This is not to say that other strata of the socio-economic population don’t use the public transportation, but the majority is held with the poor.
If CNG is banned in commercial vehicles for domestic travel, it will affect people in the sense that, the ticket prices for travel might climb and it will become an issue; since mostly poor people use it. However, if the government allows lowering of petrol/diesel prices, then the companies can use that instead of CNG. The people who are living in cities and can afford cars/those that are not using public transport should not have an issue with a ban on using CNG for commercial vehicles.
People are frustrated because of load shedding and want electricity; the rich and the poor alike. If the government bans CNG for transport sector for a particular time period and diverts its attention to industries and power plants, then it would be better for Pakistan and its people, rather than using up all the CNG for transportation.
Production of electricity equals to factories etc. running back up and people being provided electricity at their homes. The poor would overlook the fact that the cost of public transportation has risen because of alternative fuels, since they would be back to being hired by people to work in their factories and also, being provided with electricity.
First and foremost importance that a citizen of Pakistan gives to, in recent times, is the availability of food and water, plus electricity. If there is electricity, you can power plants, industries and a whole country. If there is electricity, you can even cook food using it – if you are faced with a shortfall of gas. If there is electricity, you can recycle water, you can produce Oxygen and so much more. Point being is, since Pakistan is faced with a severe electricity crisis, the government should take steps regarding CNG, to relieve the people of their misery. What the steps include is for the government to decide and may not be limited to banning CNG for use in commercial vehicles.
Here is the PDF format of this document if anyone is interested: http://bit.ly/132YO00