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Charging For Change

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A couple of years ago commuters in Delhi noticed electric rickshaws that came almost out of nowhere. Within months, more than 100,000 were plying on Delhi roads. They are green, but were not covered by the motor vehicles laws. As a result they have been a nuisance on the roads. Without accountability, there are no safety standards and there a risk to passengers. Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari promised to support the e-rickshaws but now his government should move more purposefully towards promoting electric vehicles.

Sadly, a special scheme to promote electric vehicles was discontinued by the previous government. The scheme offered a subsidy to consumers that made the electric cars more affordable. Also on the anvil was a plan to create an eco-system where electric vehicle owners could charge their cars. The scheme was not renewed and while better and more efficient vehicles are being produced, the market for them is shrinking.

In 2013, the sales of electric vehicles fell more than 20 per cent to 400,000. This is despite the obvious cost advantage of electric vehicles versus those based on fossil fuels. As I had pointed out in my column Sparking A Revolution  in September 2012, the cost of running an electric vehicle is much less. A petrol driven car costs more than Rs 5.5 per litre. But an electric car costs less than a half a rupee per kilometer.

Consumers don’t buy electrics for two reasons. Their high cost and lack of charging stations. With appropriate incentives the market prices can be made as competitive as petrol driven small cars. For the charging stations, the city government will have to take the plunge.

Delhi can leverage the presence of the e-rickshaws to set up charging stations. Currently most of these rickshaws are charging their batteries illegally and dangerously through public transmission systems. By investing in charging stations, the government can improve safety, reduce commuting cost and also improve the rapidly worsening air in Delhi.

A similar plan can be implemented in other big cities in the country. The north eastern state of Tripura has given a legal status to the e-rickshaws. It could offer charging stations for other vehicles too.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley decides his annual budget, he should take a look at renewing the National Electric Mobility Policy that can drive India to the future.

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Twitter @pranjalsharma