GAIL piped gas: Network in place, but reaching homes still an issue
Although insignificant in comparison to the population, as many as 10,000 kitchens in Bengaluru are already using piped natural gas (PNG). And if the numbers are to be believed, another 15,000 households have already paid a security deposit of Rs 5,000 to GAIL Gas Ltd (GGL), a subsidiary of Gas Authority of India Limited. In the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to turn 70 percent of India into a gas-based economy while helping the country achieve its climate goals, it would be interesting to objectively assess the progress and challenges of implementation of the city gas distribution project here in namma Bengaluru. In Bangalore, GGL is implementing the city gas distribution project. Vivek Wathodkar, chief general manager, GGL says that the infrastructure is already in place to provide PNG to 87,000 households in Bengaluru and 77,000 smart meters have already been fitted. Areas where piped gas is already being supplied include BEL Colony, Jindal Colony, HSR Layout, Manganampalya, Singasandra and Bellandur among others. As many as 77 commercial establishments have already switched to PNG. 61 industrial consumers including BHEL, Biocon, Intel, Bosch, Toyota and the Rail Wheel Factory in Yelahanka too have switched over to the cleaner fuel. “Almost all the reputed real estate companies in the city have approached us to build the infrastructure required to supply PNG to their upcoming projects. Nearly 80% of the demand for PNG is from gated apartment complexes and only about 20% of the consumers have individual houses. We have already commissioned six Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) re-fuel/pumping stations in the city and have plans to open 21 more by March 2019,” he said. The existing stations are in Jigani, Hardware Park near Kempegowda International Airport, Bommasandra, Peenya, Pipeline Road and Sunkadakatte. Thanks to these, auto-rickshaws have more places to refuel, along with Total, Reliance, Aegis, Uni Gas and other players in the market. Three more CNG stations have been set up in BMTC depots at Sumanahalli, Hennur and Peenya depots, but the latter has not yet adopted the cleaner fuel yet. Officials in GGL said that auto-rickshaws and cars are the only consumers of CNG in Bengaluru but the share of automobile consumers still remains low. However, the company claimed to encourage Uber cabbies to use CNG and some of them are refilling at the pumping station near KIA. Project cost has escalated by 25% Five years ago when the city gas project was implemented in Bengaluru, GGL had a budget of Rs 749 crore. In three years, it has already spent close to Rs 1000 crore. “The detailed project report (DPR) pegged the cost of laying 1,583 km of pipeline and giving 1,31,156 PNG connections at Rs 749 crores. But we have finished the minimum work programme in three years and doubled our network to 3,014 km in the city already. Thus the cost escalated,” say GGL officials. The gas distributing company credits this success to the cooperation of BBMP. They share that BBMP had charged Rs 1200/running metre as road restoration charges five years ago when the project was started. Since this rate would be increased after two years, GGL planned to complete as much of the project as they could before the next review. They did not face any right of way issues from BBMP or any other civic agency, acknowledge sources from the company. The only challenge here that it faces is damage of its pipeline network due to other infrastructure works, under way parallelly. Recently, its pipelines were damaged near HSR Layout where Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) is constructing metro. A similar issue created a minor scare in Whitefield recently, on the ITPL main road, when the GAIL natural gas pipeline sprung a leak in front of Decathlon during BMRCL operations. “If any other work is going to be done over or through our network, we must be informed prior to it. Although there is no fear of explosion due to gas leak from the medium density polyethylene (MDP). But in case it affects the steel pipelines, we need to depressurize the zone and ensure that the leaked gas goes into the air. There might be some fire on the surface if at all. But we are informed, we can take precaution and in case, our network is already damaged, we should be alerted immediately,” he added. Connections given but conversion a challenge PNG is a cheap and clean fuel but yet not so popular among citizens. Although many apartments are queuing up for PNG connections to each household, the final conversion of a connection is yet a challenge. GGL officials explain that the problem is due to unavailability of the residents, which is why the delay in supply. “Although 15,000 families have already paid the security deposit, we have not started supplying gas to them or rather, it cannot be billed yet. And the reason is that couples either go to work during weekends and nobody is home or they go out of town on weekends. Our target is to start connecting 100 kitchens per day but the maximum that we have achieved is 35, that too on weekends,” official said. However, he is also optimistic that these are minor challenges which will be overcome in no time. Again, encouraging automobile companies and users to use CNG instead of fossil fuels is a challenge, until it provides at least 50 pumping stations across the city, say sources from the company.