By Rajat Verma
A majority of India’s population still lives outside major urban areas, despite decades of urbanisation. Electric vehicles (EVs) cannot be an urban phenomenon. The big opportunity lies in rural areas. It has been seen in Indian villages that a lot of villagers have to walk long distances to access means of public transport. This inaccessibility contributes to their woes and the ability to earn. Access to a robust, affordable transportation system can help bring prosperity to a lot of them.
It is estimated that 48% of the rural population has to walk 2-10 km to reach workplace, and many of them are unable to pursue alternate employment options due to lack of an efficient transport infrastructure connecting rural areas to nearest cities and towns. The problem has far reaching consequences for the younger population who are unable to travel to schools and colleges, thus presenting challenges for pursuing higher studies and learning new skills.
Improved road conditions and increase in bus frequency in a village improves women’s participation in non-agricultural work and makes it easier for them to pursue alternative options for earning livelihood. Here, low-cost EVs can be a game-changer for rural populations and support overall economic progress. EVs like e-scooters and e-bikes powered by lithium-ion batteries can improve mobility materially, and certainly where there is low infrastructure density, personal mobility, especially for women, opens a new opportunity set. Even where public infrastructure exists, low-cost EVs can provide last-mile connectivity.
While some may argue that the same can be made possible by conventional petrol two-wheelers as well, these have faced challenges in certain areas because petrol pumps maybe few and far between. It is estimated that close to 80% of total petrol pumps in India are located in urban areas. Hence, rechargeable electric mobility solutions can be an alternative. And because these don’t have tail-pipe emissions, they are a better choice for increasingly polluted rural areas. In short, low-cost EVs can contribute towards solving the rural mobility challenge in India.
The author is founder & CEO, Lohum (manufacturer and recycler of lithium-ion battery packs)