Kailash Gahlot: ‘We want to make Delhi synonymous with EVs.’

by Nilesh Wadhwa 05 Oct 2020


India’s capital, seen as one of the most polluted cities in the world, is driving towards a greener future. 
Delhi’s Transport & Environment Minister, Kailash Gahlot speaks on the landmark EV policy which gives a big fillip to zero-emission vehicles, on being tech-agnostic, improving safety standards including road design and also introducing a vehicle scrappage scheme. 

The recently announced Delhi Electric Vehicle Policy that targets 500,000 EVs on Delhi roads by 2024 has been quite a game-changer. What was the main thought that led to it and how will you fund such a policy?
We deliberately chose such an aggressive target (500,000 EVs by 2024), because if we want to make a difference, the difference has to be perceptible. At present, the percentage of electric vehicles (EVs) is quite small, hardly around 0.2 percent. Delhi is the capital of the country as well as the only city in India where the entire public transport runs on clean fuel — CNG. By setting an ambitious target of 25 percent EVs by 2024, we want to set an example for the entire country once again. This was the primary thought process behind the target. 
Secondly, with regard to funding, we have devised a few mechanisms like introducing a new cess on diesel vehicles. Also, 50 percent of whatever air ambient funds we are receiving will be used towards supporting the EV policy. The Delhi government is fully committed towards this cause and will take all necessary steps to ensure support to the policy (financial). The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, has also assured that come what may, we will go ahead with the EV policy. Whatever government expenditure is required to support the EV policy, we will keep working on it and whatever amendments are needed, we will introduce them. 

The Delhi EV policy looks to address a number of pain points. What were the thoughts behind drawing up such a policy? 
We want to create a good environment and ecosystem for implementing the policy. While drafting the policy we have worked hard, held discussions with different researchers, scientists, industry stakeholders and OEMs, and have tried to incorporate almost all significant factors.

The FAME I and FAME II policies have not resulted in mass adoption of electrified vehicles. Also, the FAME II policy does not offer any incentive to private four-wheeler EV buyers. What is your view on this?
I fully agree with you, because when one talks about the EV policy we cannot talk about it in isolation. There needs to be a complete environment (ecosystem) and being conscious of this, we have tried to incorporate them in the Delhi EV policy. For example, if you do not have adequate charging infrastructure, we don’t think an EV policy will be able to bring more EVs on the roads. That is why we have created a separate dedicated group for charging infrastructure, and also a full-fledged EV board chaired by the Transport Minister. 
We will be creating smaller working groups and set regular targets for setting up charging stations. We will also take onboard, all the relevant land-owning agencies — Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Public Works Department (PWD), Education Department or even our own DTC depots and terminals. That is how we intend to remove the range anxiety issue of EV owners. 
For private four-wheeler users, we have linked the incentive to the battery capacity, per kWh battery will have a purchase incentive of Rs 10,000. The Delhi EV policy is providing subsidy to each segment, be it two- and three-wheelers or passenger vehicles for both private as well as fleet customers. There will be electronic transfers and the government is working towards a smooth system whereby, within a week of purchase, the subsidy amount will reflect in the bank account.

Do you agree that if ministers across the country, and the Central and state governments and their offices, start using EVs actively, it will send a message to people to adopt e-mobility?
We have set a target for that also. All the Delhi government-owned vehicles will be converted to electric vehicles very soon too. 

Are you engaging in talks with shared mobility providers to have EVs as part of their fleet? 
We are in talks with almost everybody, we are encouraging that as much as we can. But beyond a point we should not, because as a government we do not want to force people. We want people to voluntarily adopt the technology. The Delhi government wants to be a facilitator and motivate people to adopt this technology and not dictate it. Unless and until people adopt EVs, the technology cannot be effective.

What will be the function of the State Electric Vehicle Board?
The EV Board’s primary role will be to see that there are no hiccups in the execution, monitoring all the important milestones and sorting out any delays that might arise. By doing this, we will be able to able to achieve the targets that are set in the policy itself. When we spoke on the funding part, there is a pollution cess on sale of diesel vehicles that is already applicable. We have also waived off registration fee (road tax) and interest waiver on loans, free parking charges for EVs, among others. 

How does the EV policy support new job creation? Will you also look at partnering industry bodies like SIAM, SMEV and ACMA for skill training?
When we talk about the EV policy, it is about the whole ecosystem. In addition to EVs, there will be a full-fledged industry of batteries, charging infrastructure, provision for disposing old batteries and battery swapping stations. All these will require skilled manpower. The initiative will lead to job creation, and that is why we are confident that this policy will also create additional jobs. Coming to the point of partnering industry bodies, we will partner with all the different industry forums. 

Can you elaborate on your scrappage policy plans? Will the government also look at a PPP model?
While an authorised scrapping centre won’t be possible in the Delhi region itself as it falls under the orange category, we will facilitate scrapping and dismantling around Delhi, maybe in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana. Mostly, we will leave this to the private players but whatever assistance or handholding may be required from our side, the Delhi government will ensure that it will not shy away. We have already announced incentives for customers who trade their old vehicles for electric vehicles, in the EV policy.

The Ministry of Road and Transport recently allowed two- and three-wheelers to be sold without batteries, thus encouraging the battery swap model. Some OEMs have questioned the safety aspect. What is your opinion since the Delhi EV policy also talks about incentivising battery swapping?
There are two schools of thought — one of battery swapping and the other one being battery charging. We will always get to hear different versions from either of them — we are open to it, and have no reservations against either of them and are supporting both forms. 

Some industry stakeholders have asked for a technology-neutral roadmap to reduce transport emission. Does the Delhi EV policy have room to accommodate alternatives to lithium-ion-powered EVs, for instance hydrogen fuel cell, solid state batteries or sodium-ion batteries?
We are not stopping anybody, whatever the battery composition or technology may be and which may mostly be market driven. We don’t want to regulate anything. We are already experimenting with hydrogen CNG with Indian Oil in Delhi and are open to all newer technologies. We are ready to provide the benefits as long as they have the necessary certifications, as eventually it will all be market driven. If a product is better and cheaper than others, you will gain demand. For any new technology to be mass-adopted, the prices need to be within the reach of the common man. We are saying the same thing to OEMs that while the technology is new, the Delhi government is ready to support you and provide subsidies, but you cannot just keep relying on subsidies, you have to bring down the prices and become competitive.

What are the areas that the Delhi government is working on to improve road safety?
We have been having regular meetings for the past two to three years to address the challenge of road safety, for which we have also created a Road Safety Cell, which is headed by a person of the calibre of a joint commissioner. We have had meetings with the traffic police, PWD and have identified black spots with the help of the SaveLife Foundation and have carried out corrective measures in certain places. We are targeting to reduce road fatalities as much as possible. 

Do you think that the 60kph speed limit on most roads in Delhi is adequate and not too less? Do you plan to increase it in the near future? Do you think speed cameras have helped reduce road accidents?
There are some road stretches where the speed limit has been increased to 60kph, which are roads that are broad enough, good roads with less traffic. We intend to review it along with the traffic police to see whether there is a possibility to improve, and wherever there is, we will do it. The idea is to bring in some uniformity on speed limit. We plan to make a small committee which will include PWD, traffic police and the relevant road agency and review all the major roads. 
We don’t have any record as such that suggests that speed cameras instill confidence in bringing down road accidents. More often than not, the accidents that happen are because of the road design. It may not just be the fault of the driver, pedestrian or the cyclist, but also probably the way the road is. For instance, if the road doesn’t have pedestrian crossing, what option does the pedestrian have? That’s why I feel road design is a very important aspect which, more often than not, is left out. Secondly, whenever an accident takes place, we are not investigating the real reason behind the same; we are only prosecuting the vehicle owners. This calls for an entire change in the thought process. That is what I have been emphasising in the road meetings too. We must investigate the site of the accident to understand what the reason behind the crash was.

Many people feel that in the last six years the Delhi government hasn't commissioned construction of any new flyovers in the city. Is that correct? 
We have inaugurated a couple of new flyovers. We have sanctioned a lot of flyovers, and any construction of such magnitude is a big project. Secondly, you have to understand that Delhi is a very complex place because of multiple governing agencies. There is a gap of almost two to three years between the day when the Cabinet gives consent to a proposal to the time when it becomes a ground reality. Because all the approvals have to come in, the DDA has to be on board; where MCD is there, they have to be on the same page, then there is the tendering process, and the layout and structural design have to be finalised. This easily takes up to three years. 

Do you have a roadmap for improving the CNG infrastructure in Delhi? 
We have been advocating CNG enough and although there are a good number of CNG stations, we have been asking CNG station companies to open more outlets to reduce customer congestion. There is no new announcement on this path as we wish to see more adoption of EVs.

Most e-rickshaws in Delhi have their lighting systems disconnected to enhance battery range. It's a big safety issue, especially at night. Is the government doing anything in this regard?
The biggest challenge for electric e-rickshaw drivers is the battery; right now battery swapping is being done in an unorganised way. That is why we have been asking these e-rickshaw owners to buy good e-rickshaws with good batteries (lithium-ion), but lead-acid battery swapping is already being done unofficially/ illegally. The lead-acid battery that is being used by the segment is quite hazardous, is a risky affair and poses a greater threat for the environment. It is estimated that battery swapping costs around Rs 200 for an e-rickshaw. We will try and encourage them to adopt new technologies and using batteries that are eco-friendly and not polluting/ risky.

Any additional thoughts you would like to share about plans for Delhi?
As the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal mentioned, when one talks about electric vehicles, everyone thinks China. We want that to change and make Delhi synonymous with electric vehicles. We want to make Delhi an example globally.  Once the apprehension and fear are  gone from the consumers’ minds, the higher will be the adoption, which in turn will benefit the OEMs and bring EV prices down. The Delhi government stands committed to this cause, and will do whatever is possible to make this happen. 
 

(This interview was first published in the September 1, 2020 issue of Autocar Professional)