In an effort to clean up Delhi’s air, the Aam Aadmi Party government released a draft Delhi Electric Vehicle Policy, 2018, on November 28. The draft – prepared by the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, an advisory body of the state government – will go through public consultations till December 26. The policy aims for 25% of all newly registered vehicles in Delhi to be electric by 2023, supported by charging infrastructure and subsidies for the purchase of electric two-wheelers among other aspects.

The draft policy is among several measures introduced by the Delhi government to tackle worsening air pollution, such as the odd-even vehicle rationing scheme. According to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in the Capital in 2016, vehicular emissions contribute significantly to the presence of particulate matter PM 2.5 and PM 10 – tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream and cause respiratory and other diseases – in the air in summer and winter. The study states that vehicular pollution in Delhi went up from 64% in 1990 to 72% in 2000. In the same period, the consumption of petrol increased by 400% and diesel by 300%. The study recommends the introduction of electric and hybrid (using two or more fuel sources) vehicles.

Delhi had made a shift to cleaner fuel in the early 2000s too. “During the CNG [compressed natural gas] shift in the early 2000s, some of the light duty vehicles were retrofitted to operate on CNG,” states a study conducted in 2012 by the research organisation Urban Emissions on the multiple sources of pollution in Delhi. It goes on to say, “However, the benefits of converting buses, taxis and three-wheelers to CNG-based vehicles are now lost due to an increase in sales of diesel-based passenger vehicles.”

With the Capital now looking to make a transition to electric vehicles, experts say there are definite advantages to this and that implementing the policy should not be a problem. However, they point to the lack of restrictions on petrol and diesel-run cars as a possible spoiler.

Policy features

With its electric vehicle policy, Delhi is all set to join states such as Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu that have introduced electric vehicles in public transport and incentivised their purchase.

Jasmine Shah, vice-chairperson of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi, said the policy was drafted after six months of research, which also studied the transition to electric vehicles in China, Taiwan and Norway. “China shifted to 16,000 electric buses within three years but they also put restrictions on the number of fuel-run vehicles each family can own,” he said. “We are not putting any restrictions on residents in Delhi.”

An electric bus in Shanghai. Research for the draft Delhi Electric Vehicle Policy included studying the transition to electric vehicles in China, Taiwan and Norway. (Credit: Jengtingchen / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

“We are trying to focus on adoption rather than manufacture,” Shah said, adding that the policy is aimed at the adoption of electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers, e-rickshaws and public buses. Subsidies will be provided for their purchase, paid for from the funds of the Central government’s National Mission on Electric Mobility and the Air Ambience Fund, set up in 2008 under the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.

“There are distinct cost advantages of shifting to electric vehicles,” said Amit Bhatt, director of integrated urban transport at the non-profit World Resources Institute. “The oil prices are constantly rising, which makes the operational cost of a petrol or diesel-run vehicle huge. The capital cost of an electric vehicle is very high but the operational cost is one-fourth of a fuel-driven vehicle. We cannot go the China way because of financial restrictions but what we could do is create demand.”

The draft policy also outlines a plan to set up private and public charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. For private infrastructure, “new and renovated” residential and non-residential buildings will have a certain number of charging points and parking space reserved for electric vehicles, according to the draft. It aims to involve resident welfare associations by providing a grant to cover the installation charges for the first 10,000 charging points. For public infrastructure, the draft policy states that it will provide “facilities within 3 km travel from anywhere in Delhi”. It also notes that power tariffs will apply at these charging points.

Vikas Mishra, a senior programme manager at the non-governmental organisation Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, said setting up charging infrastructure should not be a problem but the electricity load in certain areas could. “The vehicles can only be charged when they are idle, which is mostly at night,” he said. “Most owners would like to charge their vehicles at night, which could increase the load on electricity. A better way to do this would be to introduce ‘time of use’ charging to the policy.”

Time of use, Mishra explained, would entail fixing a time period during the day when there is less charging activity and incentivise charging at that time. “To implement this, a survey needs to be conducted to understand the consumption pattern and behaviour in specific areas to distribute load across time,” he said. “Electricity distributing companies are going to be the biggest stakeholders in implementing this policy.”

Other experts agreed that power distributors would be the backbone of this policy. “Electricity supply is not a problem,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment. “This is a new market for electricity distributors because the northern grid is producing more electricity. But these distributors will have to give an assessment of how they will be able to support this infrastructure.”

No restrictions

The lack of restrictions on the purchase of petrol- or diesel-run vehicles could prove an obstacle in implementing the policy, though, said the experts.

The draft policy does mention a “feebate concept” under which “inefficient or polluting vehicles incur a surcharge while efficient ones receive a rebate”. Additionally, a “pollution cess” will be levied from April 2019, the funds from which will also go towards subsidising the purchase of electric vehicles.

However, Mishra said a cess was not a drastic measure. “If you are not limiting sales, then it is very difficult to see real change,” he said. “In Singapore, there is a quota on the number of petrol or diesel-run vehicles that can be bought. The policy needs to focus more on tightening this aspect rather than leaving it loose.”

Explaining the absence of restrictions, Shah said the focus was more on public transport. He added that “drastic measure would be draconian”. He went on to say, “We want this to be a mass shift. We will be arranging for 1,000 electric buses for public transport. Our other aim has been on two-wheelers because those are the maximum number of vehicles on the streets.”

To this, the experts said that to make up for the lack of restrictions, the policy must have a detailed infrastructural plan. “It is very difficult to get residents to agree to lifestyle changes,” said Chowdhury. “But to shift the market, the charging plans need to be rolled out immediately. The devil is in the detail of exactly how measures will be put in place. Getting this done would save us from sizeable emissions and exposure on the streets.”

Pointing to a lack of working examples on how electric buses function in urban India, Bhatt said, “We do not yet know how this will change congestion on the streets. There is no benchmark yet.” He added, “But if Delhi is able to transition, then it could be an example for other cities.”