The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not only a visionary move but also a holistic step towards preserving the environment. Rising pollution levels in most Indian cities is a cause for concern; the recent observations by the US Embassy on the deteriorating air quality in Delhi should be taken seriously.
Post that incident we scanned the US Embassy website. It read that an air quality index between 201 and 300 can cause “significant aggravation of heart or lung disease” and a “significant increase in respiratory effects in general population.” It went on to add that older adults and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. The average calculated air quality index in Delhi is above 200 and rises up to 400 at times. The index is a measure of air quality on a deteriorating scale of 0 to 500, based on fine particulate matter scaling to hazardous level (particulate matter 2.5) in the air.
India is at the bottom of 132 countries in the Environmental Performance Index report. Air in some cities has particulate matter levels 5 times above limits. According to some reports, air pollution causes over 5 lakh deaths in India a year. One of the major causes is the growing number of petroleum-driven vehicles. Steps towards adapting greener technology for vehicles are needed.
One of the steps is electric mobility. A growing sector in regions such as Japan, the US and in Europe, it is still finding its footing in India. While many studies have shown the positive impact that electric vehicles can have on reduction of petrol consumption and on energy security, yet institutions have lagged behind in adopting this means of transport.
Electric two-wheelers can have a substantial impact on reducing pollution levels in our cities. India rides on two-wheelers and a majority don’t use two-wheelers for long-distance travel, which naturally negates the range issue. A recent study by Booz & Company found that a mere 5% conversion of vehicles to electric ones can save 45 lakh litres of petrol per year and millions in foreign exchange. In another study it was found that, even after considering the pollution caused in electricity generation by fossil fuels, an electric two-wheeler saves 350 kg of carbon-dioxide emissions each year (over a petrol two-wheeler).
Although a holistic usage of electric two-wheelers is perhaps decades away, a start can be made by using these for last-mile connectivity. For example, in Delhi, the metro already connects large parts of the city, and last-mile connectivity can be provided by electric two-wheelers.
As the finance minister presents the Union Budget today, we hope there will be practical steps in it towards the expansion of electric mobility in the country.
By Sohinder Gill
The author is CEO, Hero Electric, and director, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV)