Mumbai: On May 1, 2018, the Supreme Court asked auto manufacturers operating in India to manufacture electric vehicles to reduce air pollution across major cities in the country. The latest move comes after the Narendra Modi-led NDA government expressed its inability to raise the prices of the more polluting diesel fuel and bring it at par with petrol.
While hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) application filed by environmentalist M C Mehta in 1985 to look into the issue of air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region, a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice U Deepak Gupta said that many international carmakers have been producing safe and efficient battery-powered vehicles for years and that Indian auto manufacturers should also strive towards that goal.
“All kinds of electric cars are being manufactured in other countries and you are saying it is not possible in the country. You are perhaps not ready to invest money in manufacturing battery-operated vehicles. If other companies can manufacture in foreign countries then you can also do it here,” the bench told the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), the apex industry body that represents leading vehicle and engine manufacturers in India.
In response to this, the apex court was told that a total of 22 EV models from various manufacturers would be available in India soon. A lawyer added that carmakers like Tata and Mahindra were, in fact, pushing hard for this and that several electric vehicles from both carmakers are already being used by various Government departments in the nation’s capital.
While the top court in the country wants carmakers to push for electric vehicles, it is harder than it sounds. SIAM had earlier told the Supreme Court that it was not feasible to manufacture EVs on a large scale in the country anytime soon due to the lack of sufficient infrastructure for charging these vehicles. It added that there needs to be a sufficient number of charging ports in all cities to ensure uninterrupted driving.
Forcing carmakers to manufacture EVs without setting up the proper infrastructure to support them seems imprudent. Instead, the Government must consider other alternatives like reintroducing tax benefits on hybrid cars and incentivizing firms that are willing to set up the infrastructure for EVs in the meantime. Recently, many cab drivers who operate EVs in Pune and Nagpur went on a strike as they felt they were losing out on income due to the long charging times required to juice up their cars and the lack of enough charging points.
Late last year, Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Transport and Highways, had said that all passenger vehicles sold in the country from 2030 would run on electricity and that the Government would formulate a policy to address a number of issues involving the creation of infrastructure and component manufacturing. However, in February this year, the Government backtracked on its decision by saying that India does not need a dedicated EV policy and that the Government would come out with an action plan instead. Sadly, that action plan hasn’t seen the light of day yet and an overwhelming number of carmakers are still waiting for the plan before firming up their EV plans. As of now, many manufacturers have announced that they will be working with one another to produce EVs for the Indian market. These include tie-ups between Maruti Suzuki and Toyota, and Mahindra and Ford. Others, such as Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, and Honda have also expressed their willingness to introduce EVs in India, provided the Government comes out with proper framework and guidelines.
Another way to go about it is giving consumers the freedom to choose between a hybrid or an electric vehicle, depending on their usage. According to Shekar Viswanathan, the vice-chairman of Toyota Kirloskar Motors, EVs alone is not the best answer to curb vehicular pollution. “EVs are not practical, and it’s not the way forward. In the time to come, others may choose hydrogen because there is zero pollution in hydrogen vehicles. So I think the government has to recognize this, be technology-agnostic, and encourage all kinds of technology and fix the tax rates accordingly,” he told a news agency in December 2017.