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‘Mobility Is The New Disruptor, And EVs Are The Future’

In the run-up to FAME II, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, in a conversation with BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha, asserts that electric vehicles are the future, and that the industry and the government should work together to make it happen

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In the run-up to FAME II, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, in a conversation with BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha, asserts that electric vehicles are the future, and that the industry and the government should work together to make it happen. 

Excerpts:


Do you thinks electric vehicles (EVs) are the future?
Absolutely. One should be talking about the new model of mobility, which is shared mobility, connected mobility and mobility driven by intermodal mobility which makes maximum use of digital communications, GPS and so on. There are basically three objectives, i.e. to minimise carbon footprint, to maximise public welfare and ease of living, and to generate maximum jobs and growth. Just like the Internet and the chip before that, I think mobility is in that genre of disruption. We should not focus on personal or individual mobility in the EV space, but more on public transport.
 
You have already suggested that 40 per cent of personal and public transport should have zero emission by 2030? Do you think that is possible?

Yes, but it will not happen by itself. We have to make maximum efforts for it. The government and industry must work closely together to make it happen.
 
Do you think public transport should be accorded priority while going for electric mobility? 
Yes, absolutely. Public transport means not just buses but also three-wheelers and smaller vans. It also includes railways and waterways. We have this great opportunity to try and move away from the US model of mobility, which is the personal transport model — there are 786 cars per 1,000 families in the US while we have 18 or 20 cars per 1,000 families. Here is our chance to move away from that model so that we can propagate among people not to own a vehicle but to own a ride. We have to make the public ride as comfortable, or even more comfortable than a personal ride.
 
In the personal transport space, don’t you think two-wheelers should also be promoted?
Yes. Here are the some interesting figures: 86 per cent of the vehicles on the roads are non-cars. Only 14 per cent are cars of which only 2 per cent are priced above Rs 5 lakh. So let us focus on the 86 per cent.
 
Do you think charged batteries are a far better option compared to the charging stations for electric vehicles?
Horses for courses. There is no trade-off between one and the other. For example, if you have buses which require large batteries, you will need an infrastructure either at the depots or other terminals.

You can also provide charging stations for some cars. But if you are promoting commuting by zero emission vehicles or if you are providing rural-urban connectivity, swapping might be the best option. We can have three-wheelers that can stop at a dhaba-like place, quickly take out the battery and put a charged one back in and be on their way. And then we can have specialised battery charging stations that run on solar power. At this stage, one should not think of ‘this versus that’. One should be fairly technology agnostic at this stage and policies should allow flexibility and make sure that it is technology agnostic. Today, we are into lithium ion, but tomorrow we may well be into graphite or into fuel cells. The point is to provide impetus away from non-zero emission.
 
While batteries attract 28 per cent GST, it is 12 per cent for electric vehicles. Why?
All these issues are being tackled in the papers that we are writing now and in the framework paper also. We are preparing five thematic papers and one umbrella paper for our global mobility summit on 7th and 8th of September, which the PM himself is leading. It will have announcements on all these issues. I assure you that we will achieve policy consistency by the time the summit takes place.
 
Motor vehicle lobby SIAM is of the view that the government should encourage a policy that will generate large volumes. They are also asking for similar incentives on EVs. What is the sense you are getting?
We are all getting onto the same page. I don’t think that either the industry or officials should approach these two months with any pre-set notions. My own thought is that if we can promote shared electric mobility without necessarily having to depend on subsidies then that is a much better and self-sustaining move forward. I am not ruling out subsidies but these would have to be very targeted and tied to specific objectives. But as you can well appreciate, it is such a large industry and going to occupy such a huge space that we need to find the trajectory for a self-sustained rapid growth.
 
State governments have come out with their own policies on EVs. Do you think that is the way forward? Or do you support a pan-India guideline for EVs?
Given the size and diversity of India, where prevailing conditions are so dramatically different in every state across all dimensions, I am one of those economists who believe having a pan-India policy for anything with any detail is not the really right thing. What you want is a framework policy which defines certain broad parameters within which states should be free to frame their own policies.

We had energy, transport and chief secretaries of 33 states and UTs here at Niti Aayog to discuss new mobility and to encourage them to make an action plan. They are all constituting their own task forces which will be meeting now. We all want to have regional workshops in July in the run-up to the global summit.
 
So the global summit is going to be led by the PM and participated by key industries?

It is also being attended by the domestic and global industry; global mayors of cities which have achieved a big success in new forms of mobility. Because we want to learn as well we want to get it rooted in our own ground reality. We also have an expo where the latest in ZEVs and other related aspects will be on display.
 
FAME has set a target of EVs constituting 4 per cent of all new vehicle sales in the next five years. What message would you like the industry to take?
The industry should take the message that this is one of the biggest opportunities that has come their way and they should seize it with both hands and prepare for this amazing transformation. The government will work very closely with the industry in making sure that mobility becomes the generator of good quality jobs and a trigger for higher growth.

In this large ecosystem of mobility, where does EV stand?
It is a centerpiece. Not necessarily the Teslas of the world for India, but ZEVs for public transport and for the poor people. And generation of jobs is at the centre of this entire mobility policy that we are trying to design.
 
Why are Niti Aayog and the government at loggerheads over EV policy implementation?
It is completely wrong. We have got a very clear direction ahead which is being provided by the honourable PM. We are on the same page.


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