India could switch to 100% e-vehicles much before 2030 because cost advantage will significantly boost demand, roads transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has said. Gadkari, who's also the minister for river development and water resources, said he's creating a water grid on the lines of power grid to end the perennial problem of frequent droughts and flooding in different parts of country once and for all. Edited excerpts from an interview with ET:
Automakers are sceptical about the government's plan to move to 100% electric mobility by 2030. What have you told them?
The principle of any market is demand and supply. The cost advantage of e-vehicles is so huge that once companies make good quality affordable cars available, people would buy it because it's economically viable. That would expand the market on its own. As compared to traditional fuel, the benefits of electric vehicles are immense. The time has come that we should be getting serious about cutting down vehicular pollution.
Auto companies say the government has no clear vision on e-mobility as charging infrastructure is not in place...
When solar energy came, the tariff was Rs 16.5 (per unit) now it's Rs 2.5. That time also companies were reluctant. Automakers don't want change. They have made one dye (technology) and they're manufacturing the same products through that dye. To move to 100% electric, companies have to change machinery, take risk. Mercedes and Audi have come to me that they can offer BS VI fuel or electric whatever the need is. Mahindra and Nissan are already offering e-vehicles. We're running several such taxis in Nagpur. Now you have companies competing for government tenders to supply e-vehicles. It all depends on the scale which we already have. I think we are capable of moving to 100% electric mobility even before 2030.
Is a clear policy on e-vehicles expected soon?
We are soon coming up with the e-vehicles policy that will provide for setting up of charging stations. These charging stations would itself have huge employment opportunities. The government can fund individuals to set up charging stations. Cabinet should clear the policy very soon.
There's been a slowdown in economic growth post demonetisation . Exporters and small businesses are complaining that GST is hurting their businesses...
There have been initial hiccups, but things are gradually improving as far as implementation of GST is concerned. There are structural changes happening in the economy and that's why we have these temporary problems.
Will the fund crunch hit government's ambitious highway construction targets?
There's no fund crunch in my department. I can raise money from EPFO (Employees' Provident Fund Organisation), LIC (Life Insurance Corporation of India) and other funds. We can also get NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) listed. That plan is currently being prepared. Then we're monetising existing NHAI highways through the toll-operate-transfer model. The tenders for the same would be out in a day or two. We'll be raising Rs 6,500 crore by leasing 11highways. We have 100 such highways in the pipeline. You can imagine the potential of off budgetary funding we can arrange.
You said daily road construction target for current FY would be 41km. Is it being achieved?
Highway construction pace has touched 28 km per day. Problems in land acquisition are slowing the pace of highway construction. However, there are no delays in project timelines. We're trying to fast-track the land acquisition process, but local factors are not in our control.
The government was also planning to bring in a vehicle scrapping policy to phase out the old polluting vehicles. That proposal hasn't moved forward...
We have already prepared a draft policy under which we have decided the lifetime of commercial vehicles. We are waiting for the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill to be cleared by Parliament after which we'll follow up on the policy that would phase out old polluting vehicles.
You're on the panel for divestment of Air India. Is any decision expected soon?
The final meeting for the divestment is going to be held soon. It was unreasonable for the government to keep investing in the airline and incur losses. We have losses piled up to Rs 60,000 crore. So, the decision for divesting it was well in time. We hope that an Indian company will acquire it. All these Indian carriers such as IndiGo have evinced initial interest. The valuations and other things would be finalised very soon.
The government is also planning to divest Shipping Corporation of India, a PSU that comes under your ministry. Are you supporting that?
It's a profitable public sector company that is managed professionally. Last year it posted a profit of Rs 1,000 crore. I don't think any government company that is making profit should be shut.
You've recently got the charge of river development and Ganga rejuvenation. What plans do you have for these ministries?
Within two years we will invest Rs 1.5 lakh crore to bring 1.8 crore hectare of land under irrigation through river linking projects. River development is the most important subject today. Through it we can increase the agriculture growth, and in five years we can post double digit growth, which would push rural demand.
We have two river systems in the country — Himalayan and Deccan peninsular. River connectivity is the most important subject. Most southern and western states have water shortage. Almost 60% of water is going into the sea. Here, Punjab and Haryana are fighting over water, and water of rivers is going to Pakistan. I'm creating a water grid on the lines of power grid to reduce the wastage of river water. Israel gets only six inches of water and not even a drop is wasted. We need to have a similar system. I've already cleared four river linking projects that would solve problem of water shortage in eight states.
Is there a separate river dredging policy in the pipeline?
Rivers are not being dredged currently. We are preparing a cabinet note that wherever there's frequent flooding we should be allowed to dredge that. It will be a self-sustaining model. NHAI can do it for free and use the sand for building highways.
Very little has been done towards cleaning of Ganga in last three years. Will there be any tangible difference before 2019?
I am starting works worth Rs 2,000 crore for cleaning of Ganga in next one month. The tenders for almost 20 sewage treatment plants would be awarded. Almost 80% of pollution in Ganga is because of flow of sewage. I'm planning to reduce that to 50% in next two years by setting up treatment plants. We will ensure that work would be very much visible before 2019.
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