India looking at alternatives to crude oil imports, says Nitin Gadkari

The government is charting a course that will take the Indian economy out of the grip of fossil fuels, union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Tuesday, adding that the focus on developing an alternative fuel economy will help the country to stop importing petroleum products in the near future.

"We are going to develop this country where our import of petroleum will be zero. We are promoting alternative fuel like ethanol, methanol, bio-CNG...this will boost the rural and agriculture centre and create huge employment," the minister for road transport and highways said.

He said even with low prices of crude oil globally, India is spending a massive Rs4,50,000 crore on oil imports, although much lower than the  earlier oil spend of Rs7,50,000 crore, Gadkari said while addressing a conference on methanol economy organised by Niti Aayog.

Gadkari said it is time for India to cash on its agriculture. "The time has come to diversify agriculture," the minister said, asserting that it has the potential to change the entire rural economy at a time when more than 10,000 farmers in Vidarbha region had committed suicide.

"The socio-economic situation is not good, agriculture is facing acute problems. This alternative fuel economy is going to change socio-economic picture of agriculture and rural economy. This is time for the country to plan the way by which we can save the life of people in rural and agriculture sectors. We can make ethanol from biomass that is cotton straw, wheat straw, rice straw and bagasse. Even from municipal waste we can make ethanol," the minister said.

Gadkari said that knowledge must be converted into wealth and still further it is also possible to convert waste to wealth. He gave example of his experience in Nagpur where municipal waste was converted to fuel and also sold bringing profits to the local government body. He informed the audience how the waste was converted into bio-CNG and how fifty buses are being run in Nagpur on this source of energy.

The minister said that adopting methanol as an alternative source of energy was capable of bringing about socio-economic change in the country, as it would considerably bring down fuel import bill of the country. Surplus fund could be diverted in developing the rural economy.

As rural areas are a source of feedstock for methanol, it would provide additional income and also become a source of livelihood for rural folks. Gadkari said that rice straw is burnt in many parts of the country causing pollution. Instead, this could be used for making methanol.

He also pointed out that the North East is rich in bamboo, which also can be used for preparing methanol. Hence methanol has the potential of boosting the rural economy.

The minister exhorted that the knowledge and experience coming out from this conference should get translated into concrete decisions and fast track action. He also expressed hope that the visionary approach of NITI Aayog will bring about radical change in the country.

Earlier, minister of state for petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan said there was a great demand for fuel in the rural economy as motorbikes were quickly replacing bicycles. He also said that the country needs to reduce its present import bill of 4,50,000 crore and methanol could help in that direction.

The CEO of Methanol Institute of USA, Greg Dolan said that India's priority should be to look for cleaner and sustainable fuel. He added that methanol was convenient to manufacture, transport and store. Besides transportation, methanol can be used for industrial boilers, for cooking and also for manufacturing numerous other products.

During the conference, NITI Aayog signed an agreement of intent with the Methanol Institute of USA.