Odisha has an ambitious electric vehicle plan but faces challenges

  • Odisha recently announced a new electric vehicle policy that outlines several incentives for consumers and manufacturers.
  • By 2025, it aims to ensure that 20 percent of the vehicles registered in the state are from the EV category even as the state is yet to develop supporting infrastructure such as charging points.
  • The state is also looking at adopting electric vehicles for public transport and is set to receive 50 electric buses in the next three months.

Santosh Dash is a 35-year-old rickshaw driver in the temple town of Puri in Odisha. It is merely three months since he switched from his diesel-based auto-rickshaw to an electric rickshaw (e-rickshaw) but he is overwhelmed with the transition. Dash is one among many rickshaw drivers in the coastal city who switched to electric vehicles (e-rickshaw) a few years ago.

Around four years ago, Puri, which records a regular flow of tourists and pilgrims due to the Jagannath Temple, witnessed a large number of rickshaw drivers turning to e-rickshaws. “I shifted from a diesel auto-rickshaw to e-rickshaw due to the less operational costs. While a diesel auto can give a maximum mileage of 30 kilometres per litre, the e-rickshaws, on a full charge, can run up to 80 km. A single charge costs about Rs. 30. So, for the e-rickshaw owners, this is more profitable besides less pollution,” Dash told Mongabay-India while he was waiting near the Puri beach for the next commuter.

Like him, many other rickshaw drivers who were earlier using fossil-fuel-based rickshaws have switched to e-rickshaws and the numbers are only increasing. However, the change has not spread to other parts of the state.

Similar is the story of the growth of electric vehicles in the coastal state so far even though their overall number has been increasing. According to the central government data, there are 7,934 electric vehicles (as of September 28, 2021) in the state, which is less than 0.1 percent of the 9.55 million (95,50,505) vehicles registered in the state. Of the total registered electric vehicles, 6,189 are two-wheelers, 1,441 are three-wheelers and merely 95 are four-wheelers.

The Odisha government is, however, aiming to change this as it announced a new electric vehicle policy earlier this month – the 10th Indian state to do so following the central government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, urging all the states to frame their own policies to boost electric vehicles in their states.

Odisha has targeted to achieve 20 percent of the total vehicle registrations through electric vehicles by the end of 2025. Odisha’s Transport Minister Padmanabha Behera expressed confidence that they might even cross the expected target by 2025 with increased awareness among the people.

According to the Odisha government’s data, over the last four years, the state registered 2.62 million (26,22,089) vehicles and of that 82 percent (about 2.14 million) were two-wheelers. Thus, for many, the state’s 2025 target seems a tall order as it could mean several hundred thousand electric vehicles being registered over the next four years.

Read more: A large scale shift to electric vehicles may not be as environment friendly as it seems

Odisha’s electric vehicle policy offers incentives 

The electric vehicles policy of Odisha offers several tax incentives, subsidies for the consumers, manufacturers, and battery scrapping firms to aid the transition. Steps such as scrapping of road taxes and registration fees for electric vehicles, and aid in setting up charging points could boost the transition to cleaner fuel. The policy also envisages a dedicated ‘State EV Fund’ which could be funded through additional taxes, cess fees on polluting vehicles, and congestion fees.

“We have announced the new electric vehicle policy to give an impetus to the sector and in the next few months, the implementation of the policy document will take place in a phased manner. We will issue notifications to implement these announcements after discussing the matters in detail with the multiple stakeholders involved,” Madhu Sudan Padhi, principal secretary of Odisha government’s Commerce and Transport Department told Mongabay-India.

He emphasised that the state government would soon come up with a new portal to ensure better transparency and accountability of disbursement of subsidies including real-time monitoring. Padhi said the operations costs of these vehicles were almost 60-70 percent cheaper.

The transition to cleaner fuel and vehicles is crucial for Odisha which is behind many other states when it comes to the adoption of electric vehicles. According to the union ministry of heavy industries, Odisha is behind many states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, where thousands of e-vehicles received government support under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicle (FAME II) scheme.

Similarly, the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) data shows that Odisha is behind many other states when it comes to charging Stations (for electric vehicles) installed by oil marketing companies at their retail outlets with only two such stations. The state is, however, trying to change that.

Arun Bothra, who is Odisha’s Transport Commissioner, told Mongabay-India that 2022 would be a key year for the growth of electric vehicles in the state due to the new policy and several other plans which are soon going to be a reality.

“We have some of the best incentives for different stakeholders to speed up the (electric vehicles) sector. We also have several plans which are likely to pave the way for a better clean energy public transport system regime in the state,” said Bothra, who earlier headed the Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) that worked for boosting the public transport in Odisha’s capital city, Bhubaneshwar, and other urban areas in the state.

He said that CRUT, in early 2020, had signed an agreement with a manufacturer to bring in 50 electric vehicle buses for Bhubaneswar which are likely to hit the roads in the next three months in addition to 50 e-rickshaws in the next two months.

Mo Bus, the public bus service of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack is all set to see a new fleet of electric buses. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.
Mo Bus, the public bus service of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack is all set to see a new fleet of electric buses. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

The state’s transport department is also planning to involve transgenders and women to operate these e-rickshaws.

“In the next two months, around 50 e-rickshaws are all set to start as feeder services to take commuters from interior areas to main road bus stations. All these e-rickshaws will be operated by transgenders and women. We are training them right now,” Bothra said.

Although Odisha has laid out ambitious plans, the expansion of electric vehicles and their related infrastructure is likely to demand synergy among several agencies and support from the different departments of the state government.

“For setting up of charging stations, we will require space for which land acquisition, compensation, roping in power utility companies will be required. Thus, the synergy between the energy department, transport department and other stakeholders will be of paramount importance. The whole mission will succeed only when there is willingness from all stakeholders and cooperation,” a senior official of the Odisha government, who is involved in the plan to boost the growth of EVs, told Mongabay-India.

Sources in the transport department informed that some of the leading subsidiaries of the electric vehicle manufacturers were in talks with the government to set up charging points in the state over the next few months. The government is also in the process of involving petrol pumps on the highways to host the charging stations.

While an automobile dealer, requesting anonymity, said Odisha’s automobile sector is waiting for the government to notify the major announcements of the new policy. “Once that happens, we are likely to see a new era that could benefit all including consumers, dealers, manufacturers and others,” he said.

Read more: As India plans clean energy transition, questions remain about impact

Odisha plans clean power source for electric vehicles

The officials of the Odisha government, who are working on the development of the electric mobility sector, claimed that special focus is being given to ensure that all the charging points installed in the state for electric vehicles use only renewable energy instead of fossil-fuels-based energy to truly trigger the transition to cleaner fuel. The state’s new policy for electric vehicles also talks about encouraging the use of renewable power for these charging stations.

The transition to electric vehicles is significant for a state such as Odisha while it is trying to control pollution. According to Odisha’s Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha, the state is home to six cities – Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore, Angul, Talcher and Rourkela – among India’s 102 most polluted cities. These six cities are either urban centres of the state or major mining destinations.

Environmentalists believe the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles could help in reducing the carbon emissions from vehicular movements.

“Odisha, like other states, is still dependent largely on fossil fuels for energy needs and the sudden shift towards cleaner energy sources would take some time owing to the infrastructure it demands. However, the time is ripe to take up the EV expansion seriously. In Odisha, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and industrial clusters are the main victims of vehicular pollution which the EV penetration can help in reducing,” Jaya Krushna Panigrahi, a Bhubaneswar-based environmentalist told Mongabay-India.

An e-rickshaw near Puri beach. Similar to Puri, the Odisha government is looking to popularise electric rickshaws in other cities including Bhubaneshwar, which is the state’s capital city. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Mongabay.
An e-rickshaw near Puri beach. Similar to Puri, the Odisha government is looking to popularise electric rickshaws in other cities including Bhubaneshwar, which is the state’s capital city. Photo by-Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

While Piyush Ranjan Rout, an urban planner from Bhubaneswar, said that the EVs Are yet to get popular across the state for two reasons – first availability and second uninterrupted power supply. “However, despite the lack of infrastructure to support the EV industry, many people have opted for the EVs during the last 18 months of lockdown. Odisha should place some aggressive policy framework to enable private players to take lead,” Rout said.


Banner image: E-rickshaws have become popular in Odisha’s Puri city. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

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