The Centre must set an example in the use of EVs
With the government working towards making India an all-electric car market by 2030, minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, in 2017, told carmakers in no uncertain terms that if they stick to petrol or diesel, he would not mind “bulldozing” them to check pollution and imports. Two years down the line, the minister, who holds the same portfolio in the second Narendra Modi government, must be worried about the state of rollout of electric vehicles (EV) in India, and the challenges the sector faces today.
In June, Mr Gadkari had to seek a recalibration of the EV rollout plan, with his ministry even considering a longer implementation schedule, rather than setting a cut-off date. The scale of the challenge --- policy, infrastructure and public acceptance --- is evident from a report that Hindustan Times published on July 31. According to the report, State-run Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), which was tasked with procuring 10,000 electric cars for government departments by January 31, has been granted a year’s extension, owing to lack of demand for their deployment to replace diesel and petrol-fuelled vehicles in existing fleets. The tepid response has caused EESL to put its second procurement drive (also for 10,000 EVs) on hold. If government departments are not too keen to use EVs, is it surprising then that the response of the general public is lukewarm?
One key issue that is holding the EV boom is the lack of reliable charging infrastructure and power availability, especially in remote areas. While charging infrastructure is not that big a problem for public transport vehicles such as public buses ---- because the company that wins the contract for deploying those sets up the infrastructure ---- and scooters since their batteries can be taken out and charged anywhere ----- the problem is a huge dampener for those who want to EVs as personal cars. The other big hurdle for EV ramp up is lack of an ecosystem for manufacturing critical components such as battery cells (which is half of the vehicle cost), motors and controllers, which are mostly imported from China. India needs large-scale local cell manufacturing. Despite these challenges, it is imperative that the government pushes for green vehicles, and lead by example by expanding their user base. As a starter, why not ask all government officials and ministers --- barring those who need another set of vehicles for security ----- to go for EVs? Along with proactive policies ---- we have seen two important ones this year ---- income tax rebates of up to Rs. 1.5 lakh to customers on interest paid on loans to buy EVs, and the tax rate cut on EVs to 5% from 12% by the GST council ----- use of EVs by officials and ministers will give the required push to the nascent industry as well to the general public to join the EV bandwagon.