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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
No respite for Delhi commuters
Chaos on Delhi roads
Chaos rules as half the city's bus fleet is grounded
Thousands of commuters struggled to get to work in the Indian capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a transport crisis forced thousands of buses of the roads.

Half the city's fleet of more than 12,000 buses lay grounded under a Supreme Court order which banned the use of polluting diesel-run buses.

On Tuesday, the Indian Government failed at a high-level meeting to find a way out of the crisis and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit will now meet federal Petroleum Minister Ram Naik to find a resolution to the problem.

Home Minister LK Advani
Ministers said the Delhi government has to find a solution
Schools, which had been closed this week to ease congestion, reopened on Wednesday to add to the transport woes.

Under the Supreme Court order, only environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses are allowed to ply.

The court also rejected an appeal by bus owners seeking extra time to convert their vehicles to CNG.

No solution

Commuters on Delhi's roads complained of being overcharged by taxi operators who tried to exploit the situation.

One proposed solution to the crisis has been the promulgation of a special ordinance allowing buses to run on higher grade diesel instead of CNG.

A packed bus
Commuter frustration runs high
But senior ministers, who met in Delhi on Tuesday, said the federal government could only introduce such a bill after talks with opposition parties.

The meeting was attended by Home Minister LK Advani, Petroleum Minister Ram Naik, Law Minister Arun Jaitley and Environment Minister T R Balu.

A former chief minister of Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana, had said the government could invoke a presidential decree allowing buses to run on higher-grade diesel.

But some experts said the move was not possible as the parliament was still in session.

Too expensive

Transport operators want to be able to use low-sulphur diesel, saying they cannot afford to junk their old buses and buy new ones that run on CNG without financial assistance.

Friday's Supreme Court order imposed a fine of 500 rupees ($10.50) for each day that a diesel bus was on the road after the 1 February deadline.

But transport operators said they could not afford to pay.

The court cited estimates of the cost to public health because of air pollution in Delhi.

"The priority must be public health as opposed to the balance sheet of a public company," the court said.

Delhi has been rated as one of the most polluted cities in the world with rising cases of respiratory diseases.

The BBC's Satish Jacob
"The biggest difficulties for the authorities is the shortage of CNG"
See also:

10 Apr 02 | South Asia
Delhi's commuter agony
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Delhi gets more time to clean up
16 Feb 01 | South Asia
Green buses ordered in Delhi
09 Oct 98 | South Asia
Delhi chokes under pollution
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