Articles >The riddle of greening
The riddle of greening Indian transport
The Asian Age, June 20, 2018
By Pradeep S Mehta and Samir
Electric vehicles (EVs) seem to be India’s missing piece in the
jigsaw puzzle of green mobility.
The increasing amount of oil import bill and pollution created by
the transport sector has forced the country to think and redesign
the transportation system. Electric vehicles (EVs) seem to be
India’s missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of green mobility. And
automakers are more than willing to press the E-button.
The biggest challenge for mass adoption of EVs isn’t only the
upfront cost as much as the lack of public awareness concerning the
importance of shifting to eco-friendly transportation. Countries
like Sweden have included passenger and goods transport in its
eco-labelling programme and subsequently witnessed a surge in demand
for both eco-friendly vehicles and transportation. Certification and
eco-labelling will encourage the adoption of sustainable transport
services by delivering transparency in the market and help consumers
to relate to healthier green options.
Although the EV industry in India is still at a nascent stage with
only 25,000 units sold in 2016-17, the market is growing. In the
four-wheeler segment, Mahindra, Tata Motors and Suzuki have
announced their production plans. Tata Motors has also created a new
vertical: Electric Mobility Business.
Different business models are being explored by these companies.
Mahindra has tied with Zoomcar to provide them with EVs and eased
the funding process. Similarly, Tata Motors has partnered with Ola,
the ride hailing service. Mahindra is also in the process of
developing a three-wheel e-rickshaw and compete with several small
units already manufacturing them successfully. One can see them
around the country as short journey vehicles.
Many other start-ups have joined the EV bandwagon. Unlike cars,
where major players are already present, electrified two-wheeler
segment is being led by start-ups at the moment. This month, Ather
Energy has launched India’s first smart electric scooter. Coimbatore-based
start-up, eMotion Motors, has launched a new electric motorcycle.
With new players showing interest in setting their foot, the
government is coming up with different initiatives to push the
demand. The state-run Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) has
procured 10,000 electric cars through global tender to replace the
fleet of petrol and diesel cars in Central and state government
Recently the government has slashed the GST charges for electric
batteries. Fringe benefits such as green number plate, deduction in
toll and parking charges are being explored and expected to be
The “Make in India” initiative would attract foreign investment in
the country. EV market also offers innovation opportunity for
domestic manufacturers of battery, charging and connectivity
technologies. These technology disruptions can drive newer business
models, creating employment opportunities across the value chain.
Domestic manufacturing growth may also spur export growth. Goldstone
Infra, in collaboration with Chinese major BYD, has launched the
first made in India electric bus to be exported to Nepal.
Currently, India imports batteries at a staggering cost of around
$250/kwh. Minister of heavy industries Anant Geete flagged the
urgency of the government to push e-mobility and claimed that
lithium-ion batteries will soon be manufactured in India, reducing
the cost and import dependency.
Lack of steady policy direction is stunting the much-needed
investment. Initially, India wanted to take a leap by 100 per cent
electrification of public transport and 40 per cent of personal
mobility by 2030 and planned to create a national EV policy. Later,
it decided to limit itself with a vision document, instead of a
policy. The much-anticipated Fame India Scheme II has also been
deferred for an indefinite period.
Further, owing to inadequate charging stations, the deadline to roll
out thousands of electric vehicles has also been extended. The
second tender of EESL to procure another 10,000 cars, has been put
on hold. Currently the government is working on a policy for battery
charging to address the requirements of charging stations.
Imminent prospect of job losses is also holding the government from
accelerating the push for EVs. Over the last two decades, India has
managed to develop a competitive advantage in automobile
manufacturing. A hasty policy for the promotion of EVs can lead to
job losses and disrupt the national economy. At the time when the
government is pushing its “Make in India” agenda, it would not like
to lose the debate over jobless growth.
It is likely that this regressive step of being content with a
vision document was intentional. After the initial excitement of the
prospect of turning the country petrol and diesel car free, the
government has probably realised that in a sector where technology
is still at its nascent stage and fast evolving, it would be unwise
to frame a long-term policy.
Despite a myriad challenges and obstacles, electric vehicles are
steadily gaining traction in India. To encourage more global
players, the government is all set to liberalise import norms by
removing restrictions on price and engine capacities, as well as the
mandatory local testing conditions.
As India is embarking on building technology-rich smart cities, the
opportunity of greening the transport sector through electric
vehicles is manifold. During the Paris climate summit, India
committed to reducing overall carbon footprint by increasing
renewable capacity additions and EVs can act as a catalyst. This
would also bring much needed relief to consumers and society at
large who are struggling with the growing menace of pollution. Hope
environment minister Dr Harsh Vardhan is listening.
He should know that right incentives and awareness can accelerate
the adoption of sustainable transport and conferring some credible
eco-labels based on environmental sustainability such as Ecomark can
be a game-changer. To balance its twin goals of boosting economic
development and safeguarding environmental sustainability, fostering
innovation through enabling policies for sustainable mobility is one
The writers work with CUTS International
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