Over 11 lakh people die prematurely every year due to air pollution in India. The World Health Organisation (WHO) figures suggest that the country accounts for nearly 26% of the pollution-related deaths worldwide. India has registered an alarming increase of 50% in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015. Four of the world’s top ten most polluting cities are in India. Vehicular emissions form one of the major contributors to air pollution. Amid such an alarming scenario, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari’s diktat to automakers to switch to electric vehicles or ‘get bulldozed’ reflects a sense of urgency on the part of the government to give a major push to alternative fuels. The replacement of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 may appear to be a very ambitious target but clean fuel is an idea whose time has come. India has to join the league of other advanced countries in rapidly replacing fossil-fuel vehicles with the electric ones. Switching to cleaner fuel alternatives will not only reduce the pollution load but also help in cutting down the import bill for crude oil, thereby freeing up financial resources for the government. However, the process of a rapid shift towards green technologies faces some key challenges like indigenisation of battery production and creation of charging infrastructure across the country. Compared with the developed countries, it would be easier for India to make the shift to electric vehicles because it has a lower per capita penetration of private vehicles at 20 vehicles per 1,000 citizens as against 800 vehicles in the US and 85 in China.
While there is a general support for the aggressive push towards electric vehicles, the automobile industry and a section of environmentalists have favoured a phased approach and a proper policy framework to avoid disruptions and job losses. There is a strong case for phasing out diesel and petrol vehicles that are more than 15 years old and promoting public transport in a big way. In order to meet the 2030 target, the government needs to formulate a coherent and effective auto policy besides urgently addressing the infrastructure bottlenecks. The major challenge would be to build a massive network of battery charging stations. India would need to sell more than 10 million electric cars in 2030, compared with the almost 1.3 million such cars on the road worldwide in 2015. No doubt, it’s a humungous task. The solution lies in encouraging manufacturing of batteries for electric cars within the country. Future belongs to alternative fuels. Fossil fuel-based vehicle must be phased out in a time-bound manner as they increase the carbon emission, triggering climate change and posing public health hazard.