India’s Policy Makers Can’t Agree On an Electric Vehicle Road Map

If India’s electric vehicle ambition is to be described in one word, this is it: confusion.

At least that’s what conflicting statements of ministers and policy makers over the last few months suggest. The government’s think tank NITI Aayog’s Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said on Friday, 16 March, that India needs an electric vehicle policy. This contradicts Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, who just a month ago said there was no need for it. Even Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer at NITI Aayog, had then said the think tank is preparing an action plan that ministries will monitor.

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Kumar doesn’t agree with both of them. “Charging infrastructure, battery storage, swapping of batteries – all these imply that you must need a policy to put it all together”, he said at the 15th Petro India Conference in New Delhi on Friday.

"NITI Aayog is very well placed to develop this policy. We can’t really depend on the market completely or the ministries working in silos for delivering a brand-new transport model." - Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog

The third-largest importer of oil wants to cut reliance on fossil fuels to lower its import bill and reduce emissions as India has some of the world’s worst polluted cities. A March 2017 statement quoted Piyush Goyal, now the minister of coal and railways, as saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed a group of senior ministers to “lead the initiative and make sure that by 2030 most, if not all, vehicles in India are powered by electricity”.

That electric mobility ambition – to be achieved in less than a decade and half – led automakers to demand a clear road map as it entailed investments in infrastructure and manufacturing. More confusion followed.

The government later denied setting a target. The Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises hasn’t specified a timeframe for 100 percent electric mobility, Babul Supriyo, the minister in charge, said in a written reply to a query in Lok Sabha.

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Then Power Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla’s statement earlier this month underscored that India has scaled down its ambition.  The government is focusing on creating charging infrastructure and policy framework so that by 2030, more than 30 percent of vehicles are electric, he said.

Kumar, on Friday, stressed on the need to create a condition for the government to work in tandem with private sector by mutual consultation. And that the priority should be two-wheelers and public transport.

“90 percent of total vehicles on road are two- and three-wheelers. They will remain the mainstay. We have a culture of shared mobility as we use passenger buses also”, he said.

" We will have to focus on how to get this huge segment to electric mobility and not focus on cars. It will create a base for charging infrastructure and battery technology.  " - Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog

(This article was first published on BloombergQuint)

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