The only way to make the policy work smoothly without derailing the auto industry is by hastening slowly. The direction is more important than a short deadline.
Here are some vital steps to follow.
Nitin Gadkari’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is reported to be planning a complete ban on non-electric three-wheelers by 2023 and two-wheelers below 150 cc by 2025.
The proposal, yet to be formally announced, has already been criticised by the auto industry, which feels that the targets are impractical, especially in the context of low supply chain capabilities in this technology, low spread of the infrastructure needed to enable this massive rollout, and the impending implementation of the Bharat VI emission norms from 1 April 2020, which itself will be a huge cost for the industry.
If the auto industry, already spooked by falling demand, is going to shift gears in favour of electric vehicles (EVs) shortly, then the new Bharat VI-complaint range of petrol and diesel vehicles will have fewer buyers. You can’t expect companies to make large investments in existing technology to comply with pollution norms and also demand a shift to new technology which will make all this redundant in a few years’ time.
That India must quickly board the EV bandwagon is clear. Given rising and almost unbearable pollution levels in all our major cities, this is absolutely needed, complete with incentives for the purchase of EVs, scrapping of older polluting vehicles, and increased budgetary allocations to boost EV-related infrastructure.
However, the only way to make the policy work smoothly without derailing the auto industry is by hastening slowly. The direction is more important than a short deadline. The following steps are vital.
First, prescribe the emissions mix between polluting cars and EVs for upto a decade ahead, so that the mix steadily rises in favour of EVs and even hybrids. The timeframe for achieving 100 per cent zero emissions should not be three to five years for any product group, but 10-15 years.
Second, enable the shift through fiscal incentives for less polluting vehicles, and disincentives for the really dirty ones. In particular, the need to scrap old vehicles should be accelerated. There is no point asking car and bike companies to produce cleaner vehicles if the existing stock of 15- and 20-year-old smoke belchers never reduces.
Third, plan the EV rollout city- and state-wise, and not nationally. Some states can roll out EV infrastructure faster than the others, and the same holds for cities. Huge metros, which are always short of land for creating new infrastructure, may need different policies for encouraging investments in battery-charging points and conversion of petrol pumps into EV-servicing portals than newer cities which have more space to create these facilities. New housing societies sanctioned by the municipal societies should not only have parking spaces, but must also be mandated to create charging points for bikes and cars right from the beginning. Commercial vehicle layover points and depots must also sport this kind of infrastructure.
Four, think in advance about disposal of highly toxic batteries that will start piling up once EVs become the norm in most cities. Not having a safe disposal strategy means old and unusable batteries will be dumped everywhere, and both land and water sources may get polluted.
Five, also plan for the spike in electricity demand. EV adoption will increase demand for coal- and gas-based power in the short run, well before non-polluting sources of power (solar, wind, etc) kick in with significant contributions to the grid. This has implications for higher pollution at thermal plants, and adjustment to a more volatile gas market.
Six, we need vehicle compactors and scrapyards. We also need simpler rules for deregistering condemned vehicles. Right now, old cars are often left to rot in public spaces, and they are not formally deregistered before they are scrapped. Most often, they are stolen or cannibalised, and some are used for nefarious purposes.
Shifting away from internal combustion engines to EVs is a journey, not a deadline-driven destination.