By expressing an intention to buy 10,000 electric sedans, the government has signalled that it is ready to be the change it wants to see in India, to paraphrase a famous Gandhian uttering. The government is aiming to stop the sales of petrol/diesel cars by 2030, and electric vehicles or EVs are crucial to that vision being realised. The state-run Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has invited bids for the sedans that are to be purchased in two phases—the 1,000 to be bought in the first phase will be for the use of government departments within Delhi and the National Capital Region. EESL has specified that it wants four-door sedans that can run 120-150 kilometres on a single charge while 400 charging points will be set up in Delhi-NCR in the first phase. While the government can cite its own example to citizens in prodding them to go for EVs, encouraging EV adoption will need more than just incentives like the ones provided under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme.
The key challenge to EV adoption is providing adequate charging infrastructure. Enough charging points along the roads, at the first glance, would seem to take care of the problem, but imagine the kind of traffic snarls lines of cars waiting to charge at specific points would create. Resolving that would mean significant ramping up of existing roads and pavements to handle charging demand. Of course, a more imaginative solution would be to have battery-swapping points at existing fuel stations. Even as financial incentives and adequate charging infrastructure could make EVs appealing, part of pushing their adoption has to be reducing the appeal of fossil-fuel powered cars. To that end, a carbon tax can be very effective, especially one that factors in the huge social costs that harmful emissions impose. The large taxes that are there on petrol and diesel today could be interpreted as carbon tax, but turning people off petrol/diesel would require even larger imposts. EVs may seem to be the mobility choice of the future—more so against the backdrop of climate change—but there remains much to be done before their adoption achieves a certain criticality.