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Editorial | April 2018

How lack of charging infra is fueling the cash economy

As one of the signatories of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, among its other commitments, India has also announced plans to majorly shift to electric vehicles by 2030. Consequently, several leading Indian and global automakers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and automotive component firms have regularly unveiled their ambitious plans for electric mobility in the world's fifth largest car market in the recent past.<br /> <br /> In pursuance of this objective, the country launched the National E-Mobility Programme in association with the Energy Efficiency Services (EESL) in March. The government is looking at progressively rolling out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in different parts of the country. Raj Kumar Singh, Minister of State for Power and New &amp; Renewable Energy has even indicated that the government would like Central Public-Sector Enterprises (CPSE)s and power distribution companies to participate in the exercise. In this regard, the policy on setting up of charging infrastructure is expected soon.<br /> <br /> However, it would be pertinent to note that an electric mobility revolution is already silently underway across both big and small city India. In 2015, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill made electric rickshaws - more popularly known as e-rickshaws û a legal mode of commercial transport. First introduced in Delhi ahead of the 2009 Commonwealth Games, there are reportedly 3 million e-rickshaws in operation across the country today. According to an industry estimate, Delhi NCR alone has 3,00,000 e-rickshaws. However, less than one-fourth are currently operational with a valid license in Delhi.<br /> <br /> Given the national capital's traffic woes, even as the presence of so many illegal e-rickshaws is alarming, it has resulted in an interesting development: the emergence of a shadow charging ecosystem. With several e-rickshaw operators unable to charge the battery used to power their vehicles at home, they have increasingly come to depend on unauthorised charging stations. Operators of such set-ups make a killing by providing charging batteries at two to three times of the actual cost. Needless to say, in what could have been a great start to the government's plans to give a big push to electric mobility at a very basic level, has instead been hijacked by unscrupulous operators in the absence of any organised infrastructure being available on the ground, by capitalising upon the emerging demand.<br /> <br /> Similarly, a couple of months ago, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation's (DMRC)'s plan to provide last mile connectivity to commuters using e-rickshaws hit a wall due to restrictions placed on movement of e-rickshaws on nearly 300 roads in the city and the government policy that bars an individual or organisation from owning more than one such vehicle. However, despite the regular crackdown by the city traffic police, hundreds of e-rickshaws can be seen plying on some of the busiest roads of the city any time of the day. As far as the ownership is concerned, the DMRC and the central and state governments can examine the possibility of forming e-rickshaw operators into some kind of a cooperative in the interest of a larger public good.<br /> <br /> Therefore, it is not always about lack of policy or its timely implementation. It is now also a question of proactively making necessary changes to a policy as our requirements evolve more rapidly than ever in the disruptive environment that we <br /> live in. Especially at a time when even old economy conglomerates such as Siemens have realigned their business model to compete with the likes of Google and Amazon. Or for that matter, large lending institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) have expanded their activity beyond brick and mortar projects to also finance development of renewable energy infrastructure in developing economies.<br /> Meanwhile, the Gurugram-based online grocery start-up Grofers recently started delivering to customers via e-rickshaws in the Delhi NCR to reduce its distribution cost by up to 25 per cent!<br />
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